Muse: H.A.A.R.P. (Warner Bros.)

Jul 21, 2008 6:01 PM, By Blair Jackson

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I do try to keep up with what’s happening in music, but it isn’t as easy as it used to be (when record companies routinely sent promo copies to folks like me, and there weren’t nearly so many indie labels). The rock press isn’t as vital as it once was and rock radio basically sucks. I’ve particularly lost track of what’s been happening in England in recent years—frankly, most of what I’ve heard has left me cold, from Oasis (whose success completely mystified me) to Radiohead (who seem like good blokes but are not my cuppa). But how did I miss Muse? Sure, I’d heard a song or two here and there—mostly through my teenage daughter—but I was intrigued when a new Muse CD/DVD arrived recently (free, in the mail—how quaint!) featuring the group playing at Wembley Stadium in London. Stadium? How big are these guys? Evidently, big enough to fill the place, which is a very impressive feat. And the DVD was good enough that I was completely riveted by a band I’d barely heard of. What a find!

I’m late to the party, of course, as millions of Muse fans can attest, but I wanted to share my eureka moment anyway. The trio—singer/songwriter/guitarist/occasional keyboardist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Domenic Howard—have been playing together since they were 13 and putting out albums as Muse for the past 10 years or so. Though just a trio—aided on the DVD by a couple of tasteful support players—they create quite a squall. Their highly dramatic rock has some of the anthemic grandeur of U2, the rhythmic complexity of prog rock, the theatricality of Queen, and the ethereal majesty of (the best) Radiohead. This is really Bellamy’s show—his vision—and he is a thoroughly magnetic frontman, commanding the attention of the stadium through sheer passion, force of personality and some serious chops as a guitarist (from Fripp/Crimson-oid abstractions to Van Halen hammer-ons!) and pianist. Frankly, his amazing piercing falsetto would probably would have just annoyed me if I’d listened only to the 14-track live CD that constitutes half the package. (The DVD has 20 cuts.) But I went right to the DVD, and to see him in action, a blur in his red suit, his voice rising and falling like a siren (and the hypnotic Sirens who tempted Odysseus), wringing so many incredible sounds out of his guitar, I was won over immediately and completely. He reminds me a little of Lindsey Buckingham—personality-wise more than musically; he’s someone who’s completely committed to every moment onstage, as are his able bandmates.

The visual impact of the DVD is stunning, as well. By and large, I am not a huge fan of quick-cut editing, but it’s done really well here, and quite musically; it’s not jarring, just exciting. With literally dozens of cameras to choose from at Wembley—moving ones, small ones mounted on mic stands, aerial views; you name it—and an extraordinarily interesting stage setup that includes giant satellite dish props and video screens that are always employed creatively, it’s quite a visual feast. There’s never a dull moment, and the music is beautifully mixed and presented—I became a fan of several songs here first time through: “Supermassive Black Hole,” the aptly titled “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” “Invincible,” “Starlight” (one of the few I had heard previously). The crowd at Wembley evidently had a great time at this 2007 show (European crowds are the best for DVDs) and their enthusiasm is positively infectious. I will pay one final compliment by saying that on the basis of the DVD, I would go see this band in heartbeat—which once again proves you’re never too old to fall in love.

(By the way, I had to troll the Web a bit to learn what the title acronym means—evidently it’s something like High Frequency Auroral Research Program; which may or may not be some government mind-control program. Whatever.)

If you want me to love Radiohead (and I want to), tell me three or four tracks that will blow me away at blair@blairjackson.com.






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