CINCINNATI — Some bands spend years playing clubs and, if they’re lucky, eventually graduate to arenas. And then there’s Muse.
Though they did their fair share of slogging through poorly attended gigs at sticky-floored dives, the English prog rock trio seemed destined for the big rooms from day one.
And even though their sixth album, last year’s The 2nd Law didn’t crush the charts stateside, there’s clearly no putting their brain-frying Pandora back into the box at this point.
For proof you need look no further than their nearly two-hour Wednesday night blowout at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena, where they treated an almost full house to their maximum sonic and visual blitzkrieg.
At first, the stage looked rather flat and unimpressive compared to the three massive, video-playing hydraulic lifts that blew minds on the band’s last world tour. But once the giant inverted pyramid of high-def digital screens descended from the rafters during the bass-heavy throbber “Supermassive Black Hole,” the show turned into a trip to a post apocalyptic Times Square.
With a semicircle of monitors ringing the main stage and a ticker-like display running across the front, the image overload was in full force by the time they hit “Panic Station.” Computer code whizzed around on all the digital surfaces, which pulsed with images of an “Aliens”-like space ship as singer Matt Bellamy howled in his signature falsetto.
Flashing multiple shots of Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme during the call to arms “Resistance,” the stage felt like it was filled with a nine-piece rock orchestra, not a trio on a nearly empty expanse of shiny black flooring.
Showing no lingering effects of broken foot he suffered in November, Bellamy nimbly made his way all over the set, ripping solos from the wings on either side and slowly spinning his shiny, old-fashioned silver amp and throwing off shimmering beams of light during “Knights of Cydonia.”
The 5-tier pyramid of screens filled up with the words to the song as the music burst into a techno Led Zeppelin crunch, with searchlights scanning the audience on the arena’s floor.
And, because they’re Muse, there was a meandering mid-show jam highlighted by radio broadcasts from the past and some tinkling by Bellamy on a baby grand piano whose interior was rigged with blinking LED lights. The set turned into a psychedelic aquarium for the rib-rattling, dub steppy Law track “Follow Me,” and, again, because they’re Muse Howard’s elevated drum kit started spinning around for no apparent reason during “Liquid State.”
Bellamy slipped on his super cool LCD glasses for the thrumming Law hit single “Madness,” wowing the crowed as the wavy, digitally rendered lyric scrolled across his face.
The claustrophobic “Time is Running Out” was the night’s requisite crowd shout along jam, with the floor literally quaking as super-pumped fans in the their seats jumped up and down in unison. The set ended with the one-two punch of “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Uprising,” with images of old-fashioned TV screens blinking static amid a menacing Black-Sabbath-meets-Queen squall of noise.
The inverted pyramid flipped right side up and descended to cover the drum riser during “Syndrome,” which was followed by cartoony images of Howard fighting off businessman attackers with his drum sticks as the military thunder roll of “Uprising” echoed around the arena.
After saying very little to the audience all night, the band returned to play their traditional closing duo, starting with the beloved ballad “Starlight. They sent fans home with the upbeat “Survival,” and it’s safe to say that whether they sell 100,000 or 10 million copies of their next album, there will always be a home in America’s arenas for Muse.