Also a giant skeletal robot called Murph
With news emerging today that Muse are set to perform even more dates on their current – and really completely off the chain – Simulation Theory Tour in September, we thought we’d take a look back on how we got here. How small acorns became large oak trees. Large oak trees with fire! And balloons! And robots!
How will we do this? Well, this being Muse, we thought we’d jump in our Tardis. Yeah, we’ve got a Tardis. What of it? We keep it on the roof. Sometimes we go watch the Sex Pistols at lunchtime. More often we go feed rubbish band demos to the dinosaurs. But now we’re going back to chart the evolution of the Muse live spectacle. Hold on tight! Here we go!
‘Showbiz’/ ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ / ‘Absolution’ (1999 – 2005)
In the early days, you know what to expect from a Muse show? Three men. Three men who looked like the sort of people who’d begrudgingly help you out if you asked for assistance in a guitar shop. Playing rock music. On a stage. It was good. It was often very good – the band won Best Live Act at The Brits in 2005. What it wasn’t, however, was especially theatrical, despite Matt Bellamy reportedly breaking 140 guitars during 2004’s Absolution Tour. They reckon that’s a world record, though we’ll wait to see what Pete Townsend says before confirming.
They did piss Celine Dion off in 2002, mind, when the band threatened legal action after the singer announced she was calling her Las Vegas residency ‘Muse’ (Matt Bellamy: “We don’t want people turning up thinking we’re Celine Dion’s backing band”). And yet a strange thing happened in the mid-part of the decade, whereupon bands like Green Day in 2004, or My Chemical Romance in 2007, suddenly started treating arena rock shows like West End musicals. Theatricality was in, if you were willing and you could afford it. And do you really think that Muse needed to be asked twice?
Black Holes & Revelations Tour (2006)
At two years, the longest Muse tour to date. It’s also the point where things started to get really weird. Ambitious. But mostly really, really weird. It says a lot about where Matt Bellamy’s head was at during Muse’s breakthrough tour that the band designed the stage set to replicate the controversial (and now defunct) Alaska-based HAARP (that’ll be High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) research facility. What was HAARP? It was an attempt to analyse the ionosphere, a portion of Earth’s upper atmosphere. What did conspiracy theorists think HAARP was? An attempt to control the weather, obviously. Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez once claimed that HAARP was responsible for the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake. Still, the lights were pretty, and the two nights at Wembley Stadium on June 16th and 17th 2007 (complete with acrobats floating above the crowd, while the band performed ‘Absolution’ era b-side ‘Blackout’) continue to linger in the memory.
The Resistance Tour (2009)
To support their fifth record, the band performed in their native Teignmouth in Devon – the two nights were dubbed A Seaside Rendezvous – for the first time in over 10 years. They went on tour with U2 for a bit (then nicked the Irish band’s set designer, Stageco). Referencing Spinal Tap, they teased the upcoming tour on their Twitter feed, telling fans to “expect an eight inch Stonehenge”. Such larks. What they took into arenas was a set based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. This encompassed a pyramid-shaped stage with Orwell’s all-seeing eye at the very top. Animations beamed were onto the blocks that made up the pyramid. A catwalk into the crowd featured a lift mechanic that would rise over the audience with Bellamy atop it during ‘Desires’ and ‘Take A Bow’. And, during ‘Exogenesis Symphony: Part 1 – Overture’, a U.F.O. would fly over the crowd with an acrobat hanging from the rear of it.
“Most of our ideas get shot down by health and safety,” laughed drummer Dominic Howard. “It starts out much more ambitious than it ends up being, but we’re always trying to push it to the limits of the laws…”
The 2nd Law Tour (2012)
Since we’re categorising these tours by the name of the Muse album they were booked to promote (a fairly archaic way of viewing the economy of performing live music, but let’s save that debate for another time), we’ll call this 18-month excursion around the world The 2nd Law World Tour.
And yet there’s a reason why it’s also known as The Unsustainable Tour. Sure, the gigs booked for it featured the sort of eye-scorching lasers you’d expect from a Muse show. Plus bits of machinery that rose and descended with the band atop them. But it also sported a large roulette wheel appearing on the screens that enveloped the stage, which landed on whichever song was to be played next. ‘New Born’? ‘Stockholm Syndrome’? Sometimes – rather excitingly – it might even land on a green slot, meaning an alternative song was to be played. In Montreal, this led to an extremely rare outing for ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ era-album track ‘Micro Cuts’, since a fan had given Matt Bellamy a sign requesting the song the previous night. Other highlights included a robot named Charles, a floating light bulb and, during the ending of ‘Animals’, a confetti cannon blasting Muse-branded banknotes. Ker-ching!
Psycho Tour (2015)
After the grand ambition of The 2nd Law/The Unsustainable Tour, it was hardly surprising that the band followed up such feats of unhinged gluttony with… well, a couple of months in a van, playing venues the size of which they hadn’t played since ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ in 2001. Their set design: a simple backdrop of the artwork for upcoming album ‘Drones’. Don’t call it a step backwards. Call it a breather. Because what was about to come next was really very silly.
Drones Tour (2015)
Taking inspiration from former touring buddies U2 and their 360 World Tour of 2009, the band here played on arena stages in the round, fans flanking them on all sides. Onstage were 11 LED pillars, which road crew moved around the stage. And above the band? Actual drones. Flying around. Drones! Somewhat hilariously for all concerned outside the band’s inner circle (and the people who’d bought a ticket for the show) the San Diego Las Vegas show had to be cancelled due to “technical and logistical” challenges. Another three gigs had to be performed without the drones at all, while at a show in Detroit several of the drones failed simultaneously. In the worlds of the great Adam Ant: “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of…’. And, really, the band were only just getting started.
Simulation Theory Tour (2019)
Which brings us to the present day. Please wipe your feet on exiting the Tardis. We hope you enjoyed the trip. Structurally, it’s worth pointing out that the general set-up of Muse’s current World Tour isn’t too dissimilar to that of The Unsustainable Tour, only with more dancers and even more trombones.
What sets it apart, mind, is the introduction of a new mascot for the band – Murph, a giant skeletal robot, based on the ‘Creator’ from Muse’s ‘Dark Side’ video and allegedly dreamt up over shots by video director Lance Drake and the group (presumably while watching videos of Iron Maiden and their Eddie mascot). The puppet is an inflatable and is operated nightly by four people, whereupon it emerges during the Metal Medley. It’s also got its own t-shirt available on the merch stall and has its own Instagram account.
If Murph is anything to go by, the limits of Muse’s imagination still leaves plenty of room left for manoeuvre.