Two Nights Two Shows
Did something slightly different last Friday. Joanna and I made it over to the Prudential Center in Newark and saw Muse. Been a fan for of the band for years. Did see them seven or eight years ago at the Hammerstein Ballroom. That was a good show then, but I was unsure what to think this time. When I saw them last time they were supporting Black Holes and Revelations, which I was quite impressed with. And it was in the Hammerstein Ballroom, a smaller venue, and I was on the floor, at the back of the mosh pit. Good crowd, good sound and Muse is a tight band with good material.
Today, however, it is a different. It simply has been ages since I went to an arena for a show. I am talking the Philadelphia Spectrum and the Meadowlands. I know the Meadowlands arena is gone. The Spectrum in Philadelphia has I am sure also been torn down. So that kind of concert has just been awhile. I have made a bunch of trips to Jones Beach but that is also somehow different. Mainly though the shows I am taking in are at Arlene’s Grocery or the Mercury Lounge. Occasionally, it is the Bowery Ballroom.
More important is that unlike Black Holes and Revelations, I was not feeling the new album from Muse, Drones. I bought it awhile ago and had given it multiple listens but just was not feeling it. It happens. Not the first band I have lost track of. That said, I still had the desire to see them this year. Before getting tickets and going, I would get caught up with that whole debate. I do like Muse but not the new album. And we know that if a band is touring to support an album, they are going to play a good chunk of it. So I was tormented.
That said we got tickets and headed to the Prudential Center in Newark. We had good seats on the first level pretty close to the stage. Amenities including a bar were behind us though we really did not indulge. The warm-up act, X Ambassadors, were doing their last song or two as we settled in. Seemed like a good act – worth googling at some point. The first thing we noticed though as we sat there in between acts was that the stage was in the round. I have heard of such but this was the first for me. On both sides of the stage was a runway allowing the band to roam from one end of the venue to the other. Above it was a massive column of speakers and lights. Interestingly, they had on both sides of this column above us a catwalk lined with spherical clear 3 or 4 foot wide pods. They looked liked something out of Jules Verne or HG Wells, or perhaps something out of a steampunk setting.
The show began and ended with the last song of Drones, which is Drones. Their take on a religious and Christian choral piece complete with extensive harmonies and ending with Amen. As this played out the the column in the center lit up and offered a word salad with provocative phrases mixed in and the spheres on the catwalks – they were now launching and circling the arena in a proper formation. A call to worship had been initiated and the the drones launched. Below likewise were men in military tunics, helmets with blue lights getting into position. I suppose stage hands, but through out there is a tension between the religious and the military, but isn’t that always the case? For me I was caught up in the whole spectacle of the choral music, the drones feet above my head, and the storm troopers in blue light. Maybe they just had giant blue-tooth devices on their headgear. . .
Muse came out jumping into Psycho from the Drones album. It worked in the Prudential Center. First off, they lost the drill sergeant bit. More important was and is what Psycho really is, and much of Drones. It is really just a stripped down, perhaps heavier Muse. And that sound so works in the arena rock world. Matt Bellamy still has that classical vocal tone and the amazing falsetto, but the focus is a little more on the bass, the drums, the power chords. It is interesting, the 2nd song in their set was Dead Inside. As I type this I am flipping back and forth between what I type and the video for it, which is a contemporary ballet. So much for my thesis that the new album abandons the art rock and classical motifs.
So it is still Muse, but I feel they have stripped down their sound, and tuned or geared it for the Arena – where rock has thrived. They teased us in the audience with riff’s from Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker and AC/DC’s Back in Black, and later in their song, Reapers, it is most certainly a nod to Van Halen’s Eruption. It was only appropriate that their sound change – evolve. Any good musician, any good artist will appreciate their venue, their audience, the instruments they bring to that venue and take full advantage of the whole of them. You work with and take advantage of what you have.
And that is how I arrive at the special effects, the drones flying thru the venue, the amazing light and video sequences. Things such as a massive puppeteer’s hand over Mr Bellamy as he does a solo, complete with the strings from above manipulating him. At another point they had not only the drones but a huge “bomber” floating through the venue which did eventually crash. I think. Maybe an audience member grabbed it. It was not going at light speed. All of these things caught our gaze and did pull us to the stage.
These sights, like the riffs heard, however, were not the first that we have seen on such stages. It was Yes that routinely played in the round. Pink Floyd had a giant pig floating through their concert venue, or literally walls being built. And I remember several Rush concerts where they used that same Red Barchetta video over and over. Great song but the video did not do it justice. And I am not suggesting that Muse stole these. Perhaps they did but it was with a certain intent.
From where I sat it was an amazing show. The sound, the tunes, the spectacle. All of it together just pulled me in. My earlier concerns about the album were forgotten, and they did play a good amount of Drones. They simply had me. It might be a departure from their earlier albums, but it worked in that space. It worked in the Prudential Center. In that, however, Muse has progressed and this is what so intrigues me here – they ran with it. For me, Drones and this show not only were performed in an Arena size hall. They were and are celebrations of arena rock, which is pretty amazing.
That term, arena rock is often a derogatory term. It is often seen as a place of little thought and high testosterone. It is disdained by critics and punkers alike. I have seen my Sabbath and AC/DC shows, my Deep Purple and Ozzy shows. Kiss comes to mind and Rush too. Yet all of that is the beauty of rock, it is art but yet not. It is commercial. It is very much of the world. It is full of itself. It is grubby and sweaty, yet says something-even if simply defiance towards something. Maybe. And this show celebrated all of that with riffs from Back In Black and the spectacle of drones, and the lights and the video. It started and ended with a choral arrangement and an Amen. It entranced its audience and celebrated the arena rock show.
All of which is quite different from the next night, my Saturday night in Brooklyn.
To be continued. . .