Part sci-fi Tron future-scape, part dystopian Mad Max rock-pocalypse, when Muse’s theatrical spectacular rolled into town for the first of two dates at the O2 Arena last night, onlookers could have been forgiven for thinking they’d accidentally stumbled into War of the Worlds, were it not for the supermassive setlist of hits.
Entering in faceless silver robot masks like a WarhammerDaft Punk, backed by a flaming sign searing recent album Will of the People’s initials into the air, there were bursts of fire, streamer cannons, fake snow and oodles of lasers – and that was just the first 30 minutes.
Psycho came preceded by an animated Hellboy-type drill sergeant instructing chants of “Aye sir”. A hologram of frontman Matt Bellamy’s decapitated head sang a portion of Kill or Be Killed as the set was changed over. And when the band re-emerged for the relatively poppy Compliance, an enormous, hooded silver figure had been delivered on stage; if Robot Wars designed the grim reaper, you’d be somewhere close.
Pure entertainment of the more-is-more kind, it was Muse’s undeniable musicianship that allowed this sheer aesthetic audacity to work. When Bellamy took to the piano for a virtuoso Bach interlude before the campy You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween, he proved he could go toe-to-toe with any maestro of the instrument.
From the sprawling falsetto vocals of old favourite Time is Running Out to the histrionic drama of not-exactly-nuanced newie We’re All Fucking Fucked, the Teignmouth trio’s back catalogue has always been unabashedly intergalactic in its ambition; 30 years and nine studio albums in, they seemed even more committed to flamboyant unsubtlety than ever.
A final portion of the set saw the curtain descend and all the theatrical extras temporarily disappear as Bellamy launched into Supermassive Black Hole and a run of hits – Plug In Baby, Uprising, Starlight – that needed no additional whistles and bangs to hammer their status home. Then, an encore in which a full-throttle re-run of Kill or Be Killed and a final Knights of Cydonia played out against a floor-to-ceiling bust of a red-eyed, horny demon, its rib cage made out of tree trunks and tusks.
All now in their mid-40s and coming up to the 25th anniversary of their debut, on paper, Muse’s maximalist Comicon-meets-AI vibe shouldn’t still work. And yet, in the flaming, light-fuelled, riff-heavy belly of the O2, only a curmudgeon of the highest order could fail to be thoroughly entertained.