March 20, 2008
8 / 10
Rejoice, for Muse have finally seen fit to release last summer’s Wembley Stadium spectaculars in full sound and vision! First, though, with bruising inevitability, here’s the science bit. No conventional ‘Live At Wembley’ titles for Muse. ‘HAARP’ is the acronym for something called the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a US military-funded project in Alaska concerned with beaming high-frequency radio waves into the ionosphere. It’s supposed to be a science experiment to increase understanding of the way the atmosphere works. However, some have complained that beaming that amount of energy skywards could be used for fouler ends. There has been talk of shadowy figures using the technology to disable or destroy enemy spacecraft, to control weather patterns, block global communications, disrupt human mental processes, control minds, or provoke all-out ‘geophysical warfare’. Needless to say, Russia doesn’t approve. So here’s another handy conspiracy theory for Barmy Bellamy to tie to his music, you might think. And you might be right.
However, ponder for a moment: the power of sound. Global cataclysm brought about by massive amounts of sound – or music – falling into the wrong hands. If we’re being melodramatic about things (and with Muse, you kind of have to be) could our heroes be making a veiled reference of their own? The energy that was whipped up by those 150,000 people at Wembley had to go somewhere… Muse, it seems, were that weekend dealing in forces that were bigger than even they could comprehend. It’s always been about scale for the once Teignmouth-based trio, and for those two days at Wembley last year the stakes had never been higher. George Michael might have waded in at the last minute and stolen their exclusive at the new stadium, but this was still a band fulfilling their promise to reach for heights that most earthly bands rarely dare. It was do or be disappointed forever. So they did.
This double disc set documents the whole thing, a truncated live album of the Saturday (The Streets day) and a DVD movie of Sunday (My Chemical Romance day). Sensibly, the DVD concentrates on simply showing a great concert rather than being a great concert film. Yet it might have been nice to see a docu-form film showing the band’s adventures backstage and beyond, like Green Day’s excellent ‘Bullet In A Bible’ package of their Milton Keynes shows. Some might say that they’ve been upstaged by the U2 3D project. However, Muse were never good at small talk, and they certainly don’t need red herring gimmicks. Much better to concentrate on the drama of the performance – and what dramatic performances these were.It begins with Matt, Dom and Chris in full Christ-like symbolism mode, raised up from an underground bunker in the middle of the crowd amid a tickertape fountain seemingly aimed at the mouth of heaven itself. They launch straight into ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, a song that, throughout the whole tour, Muse have incorrectly assumed is a suitable opener, while really it is the most perfect finale (the show ends, still stunningly, with ‘Black Holes And Revelations’’ album opener ‘Take A Bow’).
It’s still a staggering spectacle. The band had wanted to fly blimps and satellites all over the shop but it was never necessary. What’s iconic is the image of these three small men absolutely owning this gigantic stadium. Wembley looks like a space telescope even without Muse’s lashings of satellite dishes and acrobats gliding across the sky suspended from giant white balloons. They do a damn fine job of convincing you they are about to fly off into the sky, and it’s this sense of sheer scale that ‘HAARP’ maybe can’t quite realise, simply because no film could. Muse have been like a spaceship circling pop consciousness for almost a decade now, but it’s still something to listen to the CD half of the HAARP package and be blown away by the range and quantity of hits they’ve racked up: the baroque melodrama of ‘Butterflies & Hurricanes’, ‘Supermassive Black Hole’’s sleek robopop, ‘Map Of The Problematique’’s Blade Runner-ish soundscapes, ‘Time Is Running Out’’s low-slung new wave, ‘New Born’’s neoclassical acrobatics and the DVD-only ‘Soldier’s Poem’’s, er, barbershop. The shows also saw rare dustings off of single ‘Unintended’, still the most heart-rending ballad moment the band have ever pulled off, and a nuke up the arse of those who would claim that Muse can’t do emotion.
But back to this global conspiracy business. Anyone who was there will testify that these shows dealt in awesome forces and this package depicts the heartstopping power of a rock show scaled up to the ultimate degree. Is the HAARP project a suitable moniker? Could Muse at Wembley generate so much high-frequency supernoise as to bring about geophysical apocalypse? Maybe not. But it was the most thrilling live moment of last year, and so it follows that this is likely to be the most essential live album we’ll see in this one.
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