Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
Muse Vs The Killers
SECC, Glasgow, October 24/October 26
The Stage Set-up
The Killers aren’t slumming it: this is one of the longest shows they’ve ever played, incorporating dazzling light displays (‘Human’) and confetti cannons (‘All These Things That I’ve Done’). But the essence of their show is four guys, standing on a stage, playing some songs. There’s honour and dignity in that. But there are no ninjas in that, and here’s where Muse have the edge. It’s not until ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ that the much-vaunted pyramid finally descends from the ceiling, but it dominates the set, acting as a thematic prop, quadrilateral karaoke screen and the centre of a staged-sized roulette wheel that determines whether the band play ‘New Born’ or ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. The pièce de résistance, however, comes when it un-inverts itself into a cenotaph of television sets, entombing the band like weedling prog-rock pharaohs, before morphing into a Japanese dojo for the first encore of ‘Uprising’. Which is where the ninjas - and Dom Howard’s high-kicking disposal of them - come in. Words alone can’t really do it justice.
Considering the enormity of Muse’s production, it’s understandable that Matt Bellamy isn’t inclined to distract from it with cheesy “Heeeey-oh!” bullshit, instead allowing his pyramid to do the talking. And indeed, watching the projected grins of CEOs slowly contort into expressions of horror (all while Bellamy sings “Kill yourself, come on and do us all a favour...”) gives more insight into the likes of ‘Animals’ than a rambling pre-song monologue ever could. When he does interact with the crowd, however, it’s to ask, with mystique-shattering inanity, if the folks watching from the side have a good enough view. Probably shouldn’t have bothered. Brandon Flowers, by contrast, is an old ham when it comes to this sort of stuff. He’s got the whole band-introduction thing nailed (“You may have felt a strange rumbling in your loins tonight - don’t be ashamed, that’s just Mark Stoermer on bass”) and during ‘The Way It Was’ even makes a seamless segue from mid-song tangent to climactic chorus: “This particular song is about coming to an inevitable crossroads, and trying to summon up the courage to ask that person... If I go on with you by my side/Can it be/The way it was?” It’s shameless. It’s cynical. It’s pure Vegas. And it works.
Winner: The Killers
The New Tunes
Muse make space on the setlist for eight songs from ‘The 2nd Law’, while The Killers air all but two tracks from ‘Battle Born’. Make no mistake: both of them would quite like you to buy their new albums. Muse’s, however, is divisive. ‘Madness’ and ‘Supremacy’ are met with enthusiasm, but despite the fact there hasn’t been a more exquisitely absurd song all year, ‘Panic Station’’s reception is tepid, and during the first half of the set there are a few rumblings of impatience (swiftly silenced by ‘Time Is Running Out’). ‘Battle Born’ is a far more immediate proposition and does everything you’d want a Killers album to do. Not everything works – ending the main set with the slender, breezy alt.country of ‘From Here On Out’ just advertises you’re definitely coming back for an encore – but the central troika of ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’, ‘Here With Me’ and ‘Runaways’ sound like perennials.
Winner: The Killers
Despite the fact that Muse don’t play ‘Hysteria’, ‘New Born’ or anything at all from their 1999 debut album ‘Showbiz’, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling short-changed. With a tendency to wax operatic about the conspiratorial ‘they’ and a love of long guitar solos, Muse don’t lend themselves to big, beery singalong moments, but when they do – as on ‘Time Is Running Out’ or ‘Plug In Baby’ – it’s pretty magical. Mix in the likes of ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ and ‘Starlight’, and everyone goes home happy. As for The Killers, the first half of the set is top-heavy with new material and second-tier songs (‘Spaceman’, For Reasons Unknown’), while the second half contains a run of hits – ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’, ‘Mr Brightside’, ‘All These Things...’ – that threatens never to end, and is all delivered with a rat-a-tat-tat insouciance that makes this shit look easy.
Winner: Spoils shared
The Ridiculous Outfits
The Killers are going through one of those infrequent periods of their career where Brandon eschews feathered epaulettes and gold lamé butler suits for sturdy, unpretentious leather’n’denim. Muse, therefore, needn’t try too hard on this one, though you’d hardly wear Bellamy’s glittery pyramid-motif tux or Howard’s pink leopard-print T-shirt to do the dishes. Extra props for Howard’s Kill Bill-themed tracksuit and Bellamy’s sunglasses, the lenses of which flash up the lyrics of ‘Madness’ – Bono would be well jel.
The Fancy Stuff
Yes, Muse utilise laser displays during ‘Madness’ to make the most cavernous venue in Scotland resemble the inside of an overworked fibre-optic cable, and use giant jets of steam to liven up their set-closer ‘Survival’. Good work. But, however, The Killers trump that by going full-blown Chinese New Year on our asses. The fireworks start during ‘Miss Atomic Bomb’ and don’t let up, coming in cascades during ‘When You Were Young’ and being used as additional, ear-popping percussive instruments on the climactic ‘Battle Born’.
Winner: The Killers
The Killers win! In the eternal conflict between clench-fisted emoting and mechanised pyramids, the human element wins out.
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