An ambitious stumble is far more noble than a timid success.
Few would describe British alt-rock trio Muse’s current world tour as anything less than totally committed.
The global jaunt supporting the band’s latest studio album, Drones, finds the musicians performing in the round, with a sprawling stage stretching from one end of American Airlines Center to the other.
Scrims descend from the light rigging, while cameras on gimbals lurk above and behind and around the restless performers — lead singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard (all of whom were joined occasionally by touring member Morgan Nicholls) — it’s a bold setting for Muse’s cerebral, insurrectionist brand of rock music.
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Unfortunately, Wednesday’s performance was an exercise in surmounting obstacles.
The scheduled opening act, Phantogram, was canceled late Wednesday afternoon, as Muse cited “technical and logistic” difficulties from the previous night in Houston and during set-up in Dallas (Wednesday’s show, the band’s first DFW stop in two years, was just the second U.S. stop on this tour, which is scheduled to continue into February).
The start time was pushed to a surprisingly late (for an arena show, anyway) 10 p.m., and even that turned out to be more of an estimate than a reality. Muse finally took the stage around 10:40 p.m., and without some of the set pieces that had proved problematic the night before.
Taking such complex technologies on the road is a gamble — particularly if said technologies are integral to the show — and watching the road crew painstakingly check and re-check various points on the stage underscored the fine line between groundbreaking and grinding to a halt.
Still, Muse should be commended for taking the time to get what it could use ready to its liking. (Bellamy briefly acknowledged the setbacks before playing the fan-requested Citizen Erased: “The crew worked really hard to build this — some of them didn’t sleep [last night].”)
Even if Wednesday’s roughly two-hour concert wasn’t the full “Drones World Tour” experience, it was still a satisfying display, a heady mixture of ferocious musicianship, political provocation and soaring, dystopian anthems.
The night began with a trio of visceral Drones selections: Psycho, Reapers and the chilling Dead Inside. Over the course of its two decade-plus existence, Muse has built a reputation as one of the finest live bands around, and Wednesday’s performance, although it took some time to find its footing, demonstrated why.
The massive stage allowed for the floor to essentially become one large pit, which goosed already intense tracks like Supermassive Black Hole, Madness or Revolt with an extra burst of electricity.
Glimpsing what might have been — a riveting fusion of willing audience and more-than-capable artist, roaming freely through its catalog of paranoid, knotty rock songs, borne aloft by Bellamy’s sinuous tenor — made the missteps all the more frustrating.
Bellamy’s vocals seemed curiously low for a long while — until at least the eighth song, by my count — and the staging was arranged in such a way that if you were seated on the AAC’s east or west end, the visual impact was noticeably blunted. (There were several moments Wednesday — what appeared to be marionette strings being manipulated above the band members during The Handler, or Muse seeming to catch fire during Undisclosed Desires — when only those on the north and south sides of the venue got the full view.)
Yet, there was the sense that those filling the room (which, in another peculiar sight, was closed off on its uppermost level) were rooting for the band to rise above the glitches and deliver.
Sometimes taking chances means accepting when things go awry, but Muse, to its credit, was undeterred by its offstage frustrations.
The triumph was made manifest when streamers flew through the air during the final number, Knights of Cydonia, but Bellamy and his bandmates had already made their point a few minutes earlier.
The lyrics to the hit single Uprising, shouted by Bellamy and those arrayed before him with never-say-die gusto, took on an extra, poignant dimension: “We will be victorious!”
Muse may have stumbled Wednesday, but it refused to fall.