Review: Muse bring massive rock spectacle to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa
Seems ironic that, during their concert Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Muse would introduce the massive rock explosion they call Hysteria with singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy delivering a monstrous, Hendrixified rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
After all, aren’t these guys British? And when it comes to big, ballsy, rock ‘n’ roll bombast, man, do the Brits have our number.
From Zeppelin and Queen to U2 and Coldplay, nothing screams spectacle like a British rock band in size-too-tight pants. For every Kiss and Motley Crue we can throw at them, they’ll volley right back with The Who or Def Leppard.
Muse oh-so-badly want to be a part of that canon – this is a band that used to call its shot by opening with its biggest hit, Uprising – and with every album and tour, they keep upping the ante to get there. They’re Britain’s biggest musical export that doesn’t feature a banjo – and, frankly, we bet Bellamy hasn’t ruled out the idea.
After all, at the band’s electrified spectacle before 9,021 fans at the Forum, Muse followed the lead of their latest album, The 2nd Law, and pulled out just about every other musical trick in their bag – crystal-topped grand piano, blues harmonica, touchpad-powered bass, axe-behind-the-head, you name it.
Bellamy is a prodigiously talented frontman, with an operatic voice inherited, spiritually, from Freddy Mercury and Thom Yorke, and on the Chili-Peppery funk number Panic Station, he let it wail like James Brown. When he dropped to his knees on slinky 2006 hit Supermassive Black Hole or windmilled out chords on 2003’s Stockholm Syndrome, every ultra-cocksure pose screamed for an Instagram. Even when he ventured into the crowd during Undisclosed Desires, slapping fives with the front-row set, he didn’t miss a note. Show-off.
Was Bellamy chummy with the crowd? Well, yes and no – before the show, he and drummer Dominic Howard played a game of ping-pong with some contest winners from Brandon. But he didn’t say much from the stage until the set was nearly over. His get-to-know-ya line: “I hear you have no water here! Those bloody squirrels!” Ha! Local humor! He gets us!
But a band like Muse wouldn’t be where it is if the music didn’t match Bellamy’s dynamic stage presence and humbling vocal acrobatics. Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme remained largely in place all night, but the sonic canvas they laid down for Bellamy’s master strokes was a work of art in and of itself – especially when Wolstenholme rubbed out a wicked wobba-wobba beat on an experimental-looking digital bass during Madness.
The bigger the songs – and yes, we know, all Muse songs are big; we’re working on a scale of “massive” to “universe-consuming” – the more into it the audience got. Supremacy is, at minimum, a first cousin of all-time Richter-scale rockers like Kashmir and Live and Let Die. On Explorers, Bellamy pounded exotic, expansive chords from his glass-topped piano like it was the last symphony the world would ever hear. And if Bruce Springsteen and Bono ever decide to take a spring-break road trip, Muse’s live rendition of Resistance might just have to make their mixtape.
Putting a twist on the usual encore theatrics, rather than leaving the stage, the band was engulfed by a pyramid of LCD screens that dropped from above the stage. A piano interlude played while film footage played on the piano. And then, the band returned and unleashed Uprising a fist-pumping, hip-swaying clarion call to rock ‘n’ roll rebellion. Survival closed the night, with Bellamy again returning to those decadant ivories before the entire stage was engulfed in columns of smoke. (Good rule of thumb: Anytime Muse does anything, the word “engulfed” is probably gonna come up more than once.)
But no song captured Muse’s essence like the aforementioned Hysteria. After introducing it with the Star-Spangled Banner (!) the band shifted gears and outro’ed with the riff from AC/DC’s Back In Black. Bookending one of your most popular hits with two more all-time classics? That’ just pure, unbridled, unabashed, unapologetic overkill.
Clearly, Muse wouldn’t have it any other way.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*