Muse Ascend to the Next Level of Concert Theater

Muse, Phantogram
Toyota Center

At the risk of sounding like a snob, some artists elevate the concert to something above just a performance; they turn it into art. That’s not to say that these artists or their performances are objectively better, they just provide a different experience. Seeing Kanye or Tool or 2009 Lady Gaga is going to be very different from seeing the Roots or Green Day or 2015 Lady Gaga; they’re all good, but the first group aims to do something different from the latter.

On the first date of the U.S. leg of the Drones World Tour, Muse provided me with things that I had never seen before. Things that were beautiful. Things that blew me away. They’ve always been strong performers, and while their songs and shows had an air of theatricality, this tour is something different. Sure, it’s in the round, which always makes for a more interesting night out, but it’s more than just the stage layout; this production sees the band performing on a completely different level.

But here is the conundrum: While I believe this is a show best seen with fresh eyes, I also want to gush about it. So I’m going to do that. You’ve been warned.

The Drones tour starts off really the only way it could: with the track “Drones” playing over the PA while big balloon drones fly around the arena. It’s almost like ballet, the way they move toward and away from each other, hovering above the crowd and then the stage right before the band comes out. Drones are slowly becoming a thing you just sort of see all the time, but they’re not really a thing you see at concerts unless you were blessed enough to see The Wall.

And it’s something that’s really neat, because while fire and lasers and the like are cool, they’re something that feels decidedly modern. It feels like a step forward in the evolution of what you can do at a concert. It makes me excited to see what other people will do with drones on this scale.

They weren’t the only trick in the book. There was some really intriguing use of motion-mapping and projection, which would normally lead to a bunch of technobabble, but just know that it means the graphics they use onstage interact with the band, and it’s pretty cool. They even managed to work in giant projected visuals in a way that wasn’t obtrusive to playing in the round.

On a performance level, the band sounded excellent. There were some opening-night hiccups on a technical level — a guitar solo was skipped because the guitar didn’t work, and “Uprising” had to be restarted twice because of some bass issues — but the band themselves were in their groove, and when they’re on, their riffs sound massive.

“Supermassive Black Hole,” “Madness” and “Knights of Cydonia” were the big winners of the night, but the crowd seemed pretty solid on the new tracks like “Reaper” and the big ball of cheese known as “Psycho.” The only real surprise was the lack of jamming at the end of songs; there’s no time for Rage Against the Machine or Deftones riffs on this tour.

There are some shows — The Wall and The Monster's Ball are the first that come to mind — that I wish I could experience again for the first time. I'm glad I can revisit them through the magic of video, but I'll never have that rush of discovery that came with experiencing it live the first time. There are things I saw at the Muse show that I wish I could forget and then rediscover, too. A friend of mine once said the best gift you can get in life is a new (positive) experience. I eagerly look forward to what Muse has in store the next time they're in town.

So, How Was the Opener? Phantogram were amazing. Their songs are so well-suited for arenas that it’s going to be weird next time they come to town and play somewhere smaller than the Toyota Center. They’ve just got hooks for days, and added to their simple but mighty light show, it was one of the best opening sets I’ve seen this year.

Personal Bias: Super-excited to finally hear “Hysteria,” which I spent far too many hours playing in Rock Band back when that was a thing.

The Crowd: Really happy to be there. Lots of hollering before both bands took the stage and really loud when called upon to sing by the headliner.

Overheard In the Crowd: I’m not going to repeat it, because this is a family review, but I got to listen to a dude berate the couple a few rows in front of him after the dude in the couple tattled to the cops on him. Of course, I could barely hear him over the final song of the set, so I know the couple didn’t hear a damn word of it, but I guess the yelling made him feel better. I mean, he didn’t step up to the dude after the show, so I assume he felt better.

Random Notebook Dump: So, the drones are cool, but not perfect. One of them slowly fell into the crowd halfway through the show — chalk it up to opening-night jitters, I suppose — only to be rescued by the stage crew, so literally leaped into action to get it backstage.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia