Drones, the apocalypse and rock ‘n’ roll: Muse live in Montreal

I’m particularly susceptible to male rock singers with clear high voices, like Freddie Mercury of Queen, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, and of course Matt Bellamy, lead singer of the British band Muse.

Seduced by Bellamy’s soaring  vocals, theatrical musical arrangements, fiery guitar solos and heart-stopping riffs, I bought a ticket to Muse’s live show in Montreal last Thursday (January 21st, 2016). Muse played two consecutive concerts at the near sold-out Bell Centre, welcoming over 20,000 people each night to their Drones Tour.

Bellamy’s vocals proved to be powerful, precise and effortless. Multi-instrumentalist, guitar virtuoso and skilled pianist, his musical abilities are astounding.

Over-the-top visual effects and exquisite music

Muse concerts are renowned for their extravagant, high-tech and ultra-polished productions. They hired Montreal multi-media effects company Moment Factory to provide an array of stunning high-tech special effects for the Drones Tour.

“This tour is one of the most ambitious and innovative concert projects Moment Factory has ever undertaken. A system of 3D cameras and custom-developed real-time visual effects pumps out responsive visuals to 12 Barco projectors, while custom-built particle, distortion, and mosaic effects process I-MAG feeds also in real-time.” – Moment Factory

The visual effects are just an additional layer of creativity to Muse’s exquisitely beautiful and complex musical journey through an apocalyptic soundscape. All members of Muse are extremely accomplished musicians, but Bellamy is the mastermind composer genius behind the band, who creates intricate melodramatic orchestral arrangements in an eclectic mix of styles.

Their music is a seamless mix of rock and pop, electronic music, art rock, heavy metal, progressive rock, classical music and opera. At times the music is ethereal and reminiscent of Danny Elfman, and then it fluidly morphs into heavy metal guitar riffs, interludes, cascading arpeggios and grand finales. The rhythm section is thundering – extremely tight and powerful – and often forms the basis for the songs, while Bellamy adds layers of melody with his singing, piano and guitar playing.

Members of Muse:

  • Matt Bellamy: lead vocals, guitar, synthesizers, keyboards and piano
  • Chris Wolstenholme: Bass & vocals
  • Dominic Howard: drums, percussions, synthesizers and backing vocals

Throughout their career, Muse have been increasingly ambitious, playing aggressive, orchestral epics about controversial and complex topics, such as the evolution of technology, the apocalypse, war, the military, mind control, economics, physics (black holes, thermodynamics, entropy), etc..

In their latest and seventh album, Drones (2015), autonomous killing drones are used as a metaphor for mind control and loss of empathy in a conformist society engineered by the military-industrial complex.

The show: a synopsis

The Muse concert opened with glowing transparent and ethereal drones floating and dancing around the arena to a recording of Drones. This is an a capella track with Bellamy singing multiple layers of medieval Gregorian-influenced chants, lamenting the victims of a drone attack.

The stage was set up in the middle of the floor, providing a very personal and almost eye-level view of the band. The band moved all around the stage, which also rotated. Bellamy was hopping, running and jumping while playing complicated guitar riffs and singing in 3-octave melisma.

Muse then ripped into the eviscerating track, Psycho, a song about psychopaths and brainwashing in the military, and then the funky synth-rock track, Dead Inside, which may actually be a break-up song about Kate Hudson, who broke off an engagement with Bellamy.

Bellamy says, “This is where the story of the album begins, where the protagonist loses hope and becomes ‘Dead Inside’, therefore vulnerable to the dark forces introduced in ‘Psycho’ and which ensue over the next few songs on the album, before eventually defecting, revolting and overcoming these dark forces later in the story”.

The artistically stunning 3-D light show was projected on long translucent cloths, which hung from ceiling to stage; and their were live projections of the band playing on central screens. The effect was mesmerizing, dramatic, dark and sinister, but at times luminous, beautiful and starry.

The Handler stole the show with a giant puppet master controlling the band, with Bellamy and Wolstenholme dangling on virtual strings:

During the climax of the 10-min epic, The Globalist, a large blow-up airplane-like drone circled through the stadium.

Bellamy also showed off his chops on a grand piano playing dramatic classically inspired pieces, Prelude, Survival and United States of Eurasia, while singing effortlessly.

Muse closed the show with projections of painterly terra-formed Mars to the Knights of Cydonia. The song is a post-apocalyptic epic, which incorporates the stylings of Dick Dale with retro-futuristic synthesizers, to then transition into Black Sabbath-inspired savage riffery.


High on music and visuals, low on banter

I had expected mostly twenty-somethings at this show but the crowd was surprisingly mostly middle-aged and very tame. The show was so stunningly mesmerizing, with so much happening all at once, that it difficult to fully absorb in the moment. The audience seemed a bit stupefied.

Muse certainly let the music and show speak for itself. There was not much stage banter and interaction with the crowd. This is just their style, and I’ve heard that Bellamy just doesn’t “do” stage banter and shout-outs. Muse are clearly an extremely hard working band who have put their heart and soul into each song on their albums, and into the impeccable production of the show.


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