So I sit here in a hotel room in old London Town the day after the day before and my head is a jangled mash of chords and riffs. I’ve done Muse a lot but last night was something really rather special. In reality, we should never have been at this gig as we already have Reading Festival tickets for one week today; we also until about three weeks ago had tickets to see Muse AND Biffy this coming Wednesday at Boucher Park Belfast. But the gods of riffage had other dastardly plans, Muse in partnership with a homeless charity called The Passage announced a special one-off charity fundraiser. Now normally with the dyes already cast like that we would have just not been able to justify the extra cost, but this was different.
No 1, this was London which is special, not as special as Paris, but nonetheless.
No 2, this was a very intimate gig in an amazingly historical venue and of course…
No 3. there was the teeny tiny fact that 2000 lucky ticket holders would get a vote on what songs would be played.
That final point is enough of a draw that any true muser would wade through camel shit in a bikini made entirely of piranhas to take up the call, there’s a huge repertoire of truly outstanding songs that until this summer we have just had to accept we will never hear again; this was not an opportunity that could be missed. So a choice was made and after a monumental fight with the ‘I am not a robot’ stupidity of Ticketmaster which left many ticketless (but more importantly having nightmares about road-signs for weeks afterwards) I managed to obtain 2 tickets. After a week or two I then managed to sell on the Boucher Park tickets; this should go some way to keeping the bank manager out of my front room and away from all of my electrical appliances when September comes, well, theoretically at least. We then had that choice to make, which songs above all others we needed to hear from this list of beauties, there were a few of my favourites missing but… that’s fine. I waited for what seemed like an age before plumping for my choices with really no method at all, confident in my gut instinct and decisiveness. My better half had an elaborate method of picking, shortlisting them and then…. shortlisting them again before finally coming to a list of 10, which surprised even her. It was around about then that MY Musegret kicked in… Firstly when I had made my choices the song list had, unbeknownst to me, not been a complete list. Two days later the list was revised and “Glorious”, my song of the year was added along with a lot of others (I think there were about 30 odd missing songs). I still think about that day….
From the moment we arrived at the Hotel Ibis in London, just down the road from the Empire, you got the feeling this really was something a little … more….. As we walked into reception we were greeted with Muse tunes, every 2nd person seemed to be either alt or wearing Muse gear and even the staff were, not only aware of the concert but in many instances attending themselves, Our tribe was, it seemed, convening on this tiny area of London. We didn’t have long… the traffic on the M5 from Cornwall up to Bristol had seriously eaten into the day so we freshened up and headed out. Walking past the venue we could see that a bit of a queue had formed at the Empire but we needed to eat and so a bit of fast food was needed; after probably the slowest ‘Fast Food’ ever we joined the end of a, by now, very long and ever increasing queue. It was also, as it turned out, completely the wrong queue which is, of course, standard practice. We quickly worked this out and then made our way instead to the end of another very long queue which was described as ‘past the pub, turn left, left again and then just around the corner’. I laughed as I was told this but it was no joke. There was a real buzz of anticipation in the queue with people discussing song choices and what the musevines were predicting would be played to satiate our ravenous ears. Some had intelligence of what had been played at the sound checks that afternoon, but given that Matt had been tweeting about the deep cuts we knew that, in reality, there was always going to be a heavy weighing of rarities. ‘Fury’ seemed to be a word you heard at every turn which despite my memory insisting the opposite I had never heard live. Presently we were joined in line by a procession of people who also decided that they too should like to queue in the wrong queue as is the British way. The last of these, an older couple, we bid farewell to and I remarked that he should jangle his jewellery from the ‘much classier’ seats he had booked; But I wouldn’t have traded our ‘down and dirty’ standing area tickets with him for any amount of lucre, we were where the life and soul, the sweat, the energy and the blood and tears can be found.
It’s fair to say that upon entering the Empire the venue took my breath away a little, the blue lighting looked surreal washing over the already mostly packed standing area and then lighting up the internal box works for the upstairs seating. The Edwardian decor just seemed to exude an effortless, much rehearsed cool and I loved the nods to the venues radio theatre days which had been left in place just for added gravitas. Unusually there was no queue for the bar as the majority were instead queueing for the merchandise; This fact sat well with my economy drive so one welcome cider later we took our place in the standing area and then got chatting to a few fellow musers, sharing rumours, previous gigs and generally just enjoying the atmosphere….and the ciders.
Time passed and the floor filled, getting to the bar became a more intimate procedure with every minute but the good humour flowed in proportion to the alcohol. We also at this time received word that the kids at home were enjoying the experience with us through the magic of Instagram.
And then 9 o’clock came…The wait was interminable and seemingly by no means over; Much later than expected and after a short dialogue from a Passenger representative the lights fell, the backing music faded and the focus fell on the stage. We waited in the dark and then rumblings, and movement, and then with no ceremony at all the boys were on stage… Unlike every gig I’ve seen in the last 2 years there was no polish to the entrance, no overhead projections and huge overhead lighting rigs. The talent was the thing. The white lights exploded into life as the guitar ploughed into the Assassin intro.
Looking back on the footage the energy on the floor from the get-go was immense, I have never seen a show like it with the floor seemingly unified into one immense slamming mass; and then, and then, the vocals kick in and you’re hard pushed to hear Matt above the crowd who are just word perfect. This was a perfect opening song… the energy was one aspect, the other was that Matt was making good on a promise made some time ago at an Irish concert where they had to abort the song due to not being able to remember it. This was not even a top 10 song however as it turned out, it was just a treat to warm us up and after an outro that escapes me…. that single guitar chord that gave way to the immensity of Dead Star, always guaranteed to put the hackles up on my neck. Then the staccato of the drums, guitar and bass in perfect time… before the crowd in unison drowned out Matt with a perfectly highjacked first verse. Moments like that will live forever. When all else has faded and I’m just misty eyes and teeth hiding a degenerating brain, that buzz of being totally in unison with 2000 other addicts giving it 1000% …. that will stay. This was also a ‘genesis’ moment for me as the first time I ever heard Dead Star was at my first Muse gig at Marlay Park in Dublin, it blew me away on that night and I’m glad to say its power hasn’t blunted over the years. Muscle Museum then came…. and went…. for me, I think I was by this point a little shell-shocked, and recovery time was short before a real piece of Rock Star uranium was handed to us,
Easily.. A song that had never been played live and when I say never I mean…. never… not EVEN in the recording process. To say this was a popular choice would have been an understatement, I must admit to having only very recently come to this song and so I knew only the chorus… Just… but it has since become a firm, firm goto. I think that Matt loved the reaction that this song got
Now… At this point I should probably mention that there was only one song that I really wanted to hear at this gig, I didn’t see it coming next, Dom intro’d the song with the guitar part sounding way off and unrecognisable but then the synth kicked in.
Was my reaction
Was the audience reaction.
"Rose Tinted View"....
This was what I had come for.
This was ALL I had come for.
Even now listening with some months between and through the tinny speakers of a macbook the hackles on my neck stand up and I want to cry, it triggers something deep inside me and cuts through all the bullshit of skin, flesh, blood and bone and taps directly into my adrenal glands in a way that only one other song ever has, “Map of the Problematique”. Another popular choice. A feint then led us into “Butterflies and Hurricanes” which sounded huge and then straight into the bands certainty for inclusion “Citizen Erased”, the boys were in fact SO certain that they bet the management a safe ‘1000 bucks’. Munich Jam then eased us into the following admission by Matt:-
"This next song won by a mile"
And before you knew it, what we kind of all knew… the opening refrain of Showbiz:- This was what half the crowd and my partner had come for…
"Controlling my feelings for too long"
was being echoed by just about every single member audience, and when the chorus kicked in we no longer felt like a crowd watching a band, but more a choir who had musical accompaniament.
Matt finished with, “That song might be back now!”. Given the audience reaction I’m not entirely sure he had that much choice in that matter really. And then with barely a pause, the guitar teased and teased but it was obvious what was coming, earlier that evening we had been speaking to an alt teen. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her realisation and reaction which was one of pure ecstasy
This was what SHE had come for.
This was what she kept missing.
Fury in all its glory was unleashed, it sounded heavy as fuck, a lot of happy people could have left totally content at that point. Everything started to blur at this point and not through alcohol either, my senses were by this point flooded with Muse, I vaguely remember Hysteria, Back in Black, New Born… and a snatch of Micro Cuts and then Agitated erased my memory entirely, like an Ood; I remember feeling that we were getting much further forward by this time as ‘Yes Please’ battered and assaulted my by this point mushed brain. A few more outros finished both me and a flying manson..
Shit… We were now into encore territory, and the surprise of the night “Sing for Absolution’. No-one saw that coming, We ALL sang for Absolution and it sounded fucking amazing before being propelled into the more familiar waters of Plug In Baby, nothing can be said about this song, that has not already been said.
And then the 2nd and final encore it, we knew we were now less than five minutes away from that bloody Harmonica which we love to hate and hate to love even more. In truth there was only one song separating us from it, the sound of that Ride cymbal gave it away; What stood in the future was in fact ‘Futurism’, the claps of the crowd drowning out the single drum before eventually after a few misdirects the bassy riff led us into the main song.
And then, perceptibly, the air cooled as it always does, to the opening refrains of the Harmonica. I’ve heard it too often in cold darkening open air stadiums to not feel that night air and see those misty wreaths of breath hanging low over the crowd. I always feel that I just go along with this song nowadays, it’s so bitter sweet; A great sing along but I feel like I’m embracing the end of times, willing to accept that this will be over and that I’m supposed to be happy with it.
No ones going to take me alive The time has come to make things right You and I must fight for our right You and I must fight to survive
An then it was done, the band were gone, the crowd thinned and as always we felt drained emotionally, we just stood taking in what felt like the last valuable moments of time. We stood in the place where minutes ago the floor was packed out with our tribe.
For days after the concert I felt that it was a great show, one of the best I’ve ever seen but distance and time has given me perspective. It was NOT one of the best Muse shows I’ve ever seen. It WAS (to date) the best. Shepherds Bush was nothing but fucking Glorious. I honestly can’t ever see that set list being bettered….