Muse pack one hell of a punch at London’s O2 Arena

Muse are both a ferocious, uncompromising rock group and a weird stadium pop band.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Frances Beach.

Twenty years ago, Muse released ‘Absolution’, a theatrical rock record about belief, devotion, and fury at the end of the world. They headlined Glastonbury shortly afterwards and, ever since, have maintained a reputation for being one of the best live bands going, thanks to a rotating arsenal of lights, confetti and technical wizardry. Last year, Muse released ‘Will Of The People’, a spiritual successor to the apocalyptic warning cry of ‘Absolution’ that was delivered with a touch more urgency. ‘Time Is Running Out’ became ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’. Well, if you’d spent the two decades warning about political corruption, climate change and the need for action to end up here, you’d be pretty annoyed as well.

Still, they’ve never let political turmoil get in the way of a good time. Tonight’s show at London’s O2 Arena sees the band bring the curtain down on their sprawling ‘Will Of The People’ world tour with a celebration of both their current record and a birthday party for their 2003 breakthrough album. Every moment feels purpose-built for maximum enjoyment.

And on the subject of phenomenal, consistent, jaw-dropping live bands, Nova Twins absolutely dominate their opening set. In the past twelve months, the duo have owned Download’s main stage, turned Glasto’s Other Stage on its head, and been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize with second album ‘Supernova’. Tonight, it’s business as usual as the pair show just how large their gnarled pop-metal can be. Tracks like ‘Fire & Ice’ and ‘Puzzles’ allow their electro, groove-driven influences to shine before the straight-up rock hammer of ‘Antagonist’ and ‘Taxi’ causes shockwaves throughout the arena. Nova Twins pull influence from the same snarling rock’n’roll as Muse – there are nods to Deftones, Rage Against The Machine, Led Zeppelin– but their take on it feels fresh as the duo deliver a sleek, well-crafted set that constantly feels excited.

That energy continues as Muse launch their set with angst-ridden ode to revolution ‘Will Of The People’ that quickly gives way to a frantic ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, the thundering ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Psycho’, an on-the-nose anthem of control. So far, so stadium rock. Over the next two hours, though, Muse bounce between sugary pop, experimental metal and disco.

A giant, inflatable masked figure looms over the band as Matt does his best Vegas showman for the synth-driven ‘Compliance’. Minutes later, he’s hunched over the piano for the nightmarish ‘Space Dementia’. Elsewhere, the band lurch between the glam pomp of ‘Madness’, the cartoonish ‘You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween’ and the all-out assault of ‘We Are Fucking Fucked’ without taking a breath. Moments like the soaring ‘Undisclosed Desires’ veer into cheese while the loose concept involving masks, rebellion and a fire-breathing robo-devil is heaps of fun, but doesn’t always make the most sense. There’s not much time for picking apart plot holes, though, as Muse charge through a set that’s ambitious, flamboyant and packs one hell of a punch. By the time the closing one-two of ‘Kill Or Be Killed’ and ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ encourages the crowd to act, it’s easy to see why Muse gigs are so revered.

‘Will Of The People’ was recorded in place of a Greatest Hits and this tour sees Muse very comfortable with who they are. Skipping somewhere between Queen and Rage Against The Machine, Muse are both a ferocious, uncompromising rock group and a weird stadium pop band. Tonight’s gig lets them show off both sides, without fear or the desire for more. Almost thirty years after they first formed, the band aren’t settling down just yet, and despite their longstanding legacy, Muse still deliver a show that’s wholly unique.