Muse brings theatricality, showmanship to Joe Louis

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Muse is ridiculous, and that’s not meant as an insult. It’s a compliment.

The English trio put on a massively over-the-top rock concert in-the-round at Joe Louis Arena Thursday night. The 110-minute show opened with a small squadron of soldier-types dressed in riot gear surrounding the stage, and only got more absurd from there. By the opening song, a dozen or so spherical drones, each measuring several feet in size, were flying around the arena, shooting spotlights on the heads of fans.

In short, it was the sort of epic spectacle Muse has been building toward its entire career — part Queen, part Pink Floyd and all bananas. It was a space rock opera loosely built on themes of government surveillance, citizen uprising and the power of rock and roll, and it delivered an adrenaline rush for fans looking for an overdose of theatricality in their arena rock experience.

It was also totally clean, both in sound and execution. The threesome — lead singer Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard — perform in a crisp, precise manner that seems cut straight from Pro Tools. (Bellamy plays like he’d give you a hard time about taking your shoes off the moment you enter his house.) All three dressed in slick, all black attire, and everything on stage was wireless, with amps and other unsightly technical gadgetry tucked out of view. If there was a white glove test before every show, the Muse stage would pass.

Both Bellamy and Wolstenholme freely roamed the circle-shaped rotating performance area, bouncing between the four microphones positioned around the perimeters and the two mics at the wings of the stage. They were never anchored anywhere for long, staying at a mic for a line or two before heading to the next.

Bellamy didn’t have much to say to the crowd outside of a few quick utterances of “hello, Detroit,” and he let the production do the talking. And that production had plenty to say: images of robots were projected onto scrims that hung from the rigging in the rafters during “Dead Inside”; digital strings followed Bellamy and Wolstenholme during “The Handler,” making them appear to be marionette puppets controlled by a robot overseer; an inflatable stealth bomber was launched in the arena during “The Globalist,” dropping missile-like objects on the crowd.

What did it all mean? Who knows, maybe nothing. Muse is obsessed with totalitarian themes and imagery, but stop short of making any comments or calls to action regarding them. The band members don’t seem to have any specific targets in their scopes, other than the generic “they” that oppresses from afar (a trait they share in common with DJ Khaled). Late in the show, a video mixed footage of JFK, Edward Snowden, Martin Luther King Jr. and the moon landing. Are these things good, bad or do they just look cool? Perhaps all that matters is that the results are entertaining.

Seven albums into its career, Muse has built up a solid workbook of songs. Thursday’s setlist touched on many of its career highs, from “Resistance” to “Supermassive Black Hole” to “Starlight” to “Madness,” with a handful of songs from last year’s “Drones” rounded things out.

After confetti cannons shot off during “Mercy,” “Knights of Cydonia” closed the show and Bellamy tore into yet another face-melter of a guitar solo, his seventh or eighth of the night. As he and his bandmates ran off stage, they had achieved peak Muse — operatic, campy, overblown and extraordinary. And yes, totally ridiculous, in a good way.