November 16, 2004

The spawn of Radiohead win over fawning Americans at Riviera love-fest

The Riviera is one of those venues that looks like it's going to come down on your head at any moment. It's decrepit, quasi-abandoned, and has more plaster missing from the once-ornate ceiling than present. It's a pity, really, because it does have that air of having been a lovely place a long time ago. But then you figure that if it has to come down it will be in a show like Saturday night's, when British band Muse played to a frantic, sold-out crowd that must have disregarded every single venue rule, save perhaps the one about stage diving. No moshing allowed, you say? Meh, we say. It's a good concert only when the audience is as sweaty as the band.

Muse is one of those bands that followed in the wake of Radiohead. I find them a lot more palatable than the original—less whiny and louder, as a general rule. Playing in Chicago after having cancelled their last gig here due to something referred to as "the accident" (and everyone but me seemed to know what that was about), expectations were rather high for the Devon, England trio. Indeed, they were so high that whenever the lights dimmed in the lull between opener and main act the crowd erupted into wild, eager cheers, even if the stage was full of sound technicians hurriedly taping set lists and cables to the ground.

After a fantastic opening set by London-based ("because there's no other place in England!") the Zutons, and a nearly interminable wait between sets, Muse guitarist/keyboardist/lead singer Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholm, and drummer Dominic Howard finally stepped on stage. They lit into the first chords of "Apocalypse Please," and the crowd began jumping, moshing, and cheering, not stopping until the end of the night.

Not overly eager to engage the audience, Muse stoically kept to their instruments. Bellamy alternated between keyboard and guitar as necessary, skidding and sliding across the stage and trading one for the other mid-song (considering he represents half of the band's instruments, this process was much smoother than you'd think it would be), while both Wolstenholme and Howard single-mindedly devoted themselves to their own trades, making for very good performances all around. If there was any lingering guilt for cancelling their last performance, they certainly redeemed themselves Saturday night. The moment the first chords of "Time is Running Out" poured from their amps, Muse somehow or other managed to send the crowd into near hysteria, a feat they accomplished again with "Bliss," "Butterflies and Hurricanes," and with, well, the aptly named "Hysteria."

But you shouldn't that think those four songs made for remarkable gems in an otherwise dull night; this was the sort of show where it is impossible to pick a highlight because everything was on par with everything else. And while this can mean a terrible night, a mediocre night, or a fantastic night, Saturday's concert doubtlessly went the way of the latter. Covering tracks from all three of their studio albums, but lavishing extra attention on their latest release, Absolution (they must have performed about half of it), Muse played both well beloved songs and rarer, less popular things. Their well balanced set even included a couple of slower songs to catch one's breath in preparation for the next bout of moshing. Just that would have made for a great night, watching Bellamy and his two bandmates tear through who-knows-how-many-songs, but the crowd—wild, energetic, loud, and unabashedly enjoying the music—made an already memorable night even better.

I'm an Anglophile and utterly shameless about it, especially when it comes to music. I firmly believe that it is better than its American counterpart, although that could perhaps be blamed on a lack of exposure to good U.S. music more than anything else. But every concert I've seen this season has done nothing but reaffirm my belief that if British music is not necessarily better, it is still very, very good. And so: to high-afternoon tea; to the train wreck that are the Libertines; to the utter danceableness of Franz Ferdinand and the Futureheards; to minding the gap and the tweeness of Belle and Sebastian; to all those things that make me pine for England we'll add Muse, live or in the studio, hands down and without any doubt.