Muse at Target Center, 10/05/10

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photo by: Jonathan Behm
Muse have come a long way from the feisty club band that played the Quest back in 2004 as if they had a point to make and a country to conquer. At the Target Center on Tuesday night, it seemed as if the Teignmouth trio (who are joined by multi-instrumentalist Morgan Nicholls for their live shows) had validated their rapid ascent to an arena rock band long before they reached Minneapolis (headlining just about every major festival around the world in recent years), and without anything truly left to prove, the band delivered a set high on spectacle but ultimately short on substance. It was as if the massive (and quite impressive) stage set was there to distract the 8,000 or so fans from the fact that their songwriting has slipped considerably on The Resistance, and what they now lack in tunes they try to make up for in bombast and pageantry.


Muse's status and stage design has increased right along with their audience, while the quality of their music has diminished considerably, and that was never more apparent than during their 90-minute set on Tuesday night. When you place songs like "Hysteria" (which featured a long "Star Spangled Banner" intro that the British band should have truly finished in order to fully honor our anthem), "Time Is Running Out," and "Stockholm Syndrome" (which all slayed) next to new songs like "Guiding Light," "United States Of Eurasia" and "Undisclosed Desires," the difference in quality and craft is quite clear, and the new tracks just come off as tepid and tame in comparison. So, to make up for that disparity, the band is placed on 15-foot high platforms high above the audience, so it seems as if the songs are larger than life even when they fall short.

Frontman Matt Belamy continues to shred on guitar (and on piano as well, although he didn't play it nearly enough in this show), while bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard form as formidable a rhythm section as there is in rock music. But as their venues have grown larger, and their songs have continued to grow in scope and pretension, they just seem to be a bit disconnected from their audience, and the focus is placed on the spectacle rather than the songs. There wasn't much communication from the band, other than a few words of genuine thanks, as well as letting us know that their first ever performance in the U.S. was at the Target Center, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters (coincidentally, a couple of other bands whose songs have also slipped while their crowds  swelled).

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photo by: Jonathan Behm

The captivating visuals displayed on three massive pillars that towered above the stage were intriguing and often quite captivating, but even that, as well as the moody light show and penetrating green lasers, proved to be nothing more than a mere diversion when the set hit a considerable lull halfway through, as "Undisclosed Desires," "Resistance" and "Starlight" all plodded along mechanically, with very little emotion being conveyed through these songs, even with a number as intrinsically heartfelt as "Starlight."

There were plenty of interesting tags added to both the beginning and the ends of certain songs, with "Back In Black" serving as a feisty outro to "Hysteria," "House Of The Rising Sun" forming a perfect segue into "Time Is Running Out," and the tempestuous riff from "Negative Creep" added to the end of "Stockholm Syndrome" that brought the main set to a close. But other than those occasional surprises, the set came off as pretty routine and detached from the band, especially when compared to the other times I've seen them. But they obviously have forged a passionate connection with most of their audience, as evidenced by the general admission area (and some of the reserved seating areas) teaming with fans bouncing in time with Muse's enormous rhythms and riffs.

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photo by: Jonathan Behm

The encore featured a lively version of "Plug In Baby," and a simmering version of "Take A Bow," which the band hasn't been playing regularly since 2007. But all of the smoke and dry ice that erupted at the end of the song (and Matt's 'Kanye' shades) all were just a bit too much for me to take, and the set ended in an overwrought, disengaged manner that mirrored most of the performance.

Muse clearly put on a big show and entertain their audience, bringing a unique and engrossing visual and aural experience to their live performances. And, there probably hasn't been a louder three-piece in the history of music. But as a fan from way back, I miss the straight forward, dynamic songs of their earlier days (even, to a certain extent, on Black Holes And Revelations), and I just wish the band would quit trying to be Queen and start rocking again, because for me, their new material and overblown stage show just isn't cutting it.


Critic's Bias: I've been a fan from the first time I heard "Sunburn."

The Crowd: A diverse mix of parents taking their kids to their first show, young kids ready to let loose, and older rockers curious to see what the new breed is up to.

Overheard In The Crowd: "I felt like I was being sold Muse tonight, not that I was listening to Muse."

Random Notebook Dump: When the giant inflatable eyeball balloons descended from the rafters during "Plug In Baby," I felt for a moment that I was at a Flaming Lips show.

Setlist:

  1. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1: Overture
  2. Uprising
  3. Knights Of Cydonia
  4. Supermassive Black Hole
  5. Star Spangled Banner/Hysteria
  6. Guiding Light
  7. Nishe
  8. United States Of Eurasia
  9. Feeling Good (Nina Simone)
  10. MK Jam
  11. Undisclosed Desires
  12. Resistance
  13. Starlight
  14. Home Of The New Rising Sun/Time Is Running Out
  15. Stockholm Syndrome
  16. Plug In Baby (Encore)
  17. Take A Bow (Encore)
View Jonathan Behm's photo coverage of the show here.

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