Muse + Evanescence @ Bell Centre

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It’s hard to make out what Muse is doing. On the one hand, they have more than enough songs that can unite packed crowds such as they did tonight. On the other hand, the conspiracy theory schtick that has been their bread and butter since bursting onto the scene 25 years ago has turned into a reflection of the warped society we exist in. We, as a crowd, want this to be escapism, but what are we escaping to? By the end of the show, I think I have it figured out.

But First, Evanescence.

Evanescence in Montreal

Evanescence, fronted by Amy Lee, is emblematic of early 2000s bombast. Imagine an operatic female fronting Linkin Park! That was how it was pitched to me before I had heard it and I was excited. Unfortunately, on this night, I was again left a little cold. They play tight, they play together, the sound quality is amazing, the light show reminded me of the mid-90s Batman movies in a good way, all purple and green. But some nights you just don’t quite have the spirit with you.

The one really interesting part to me was before the track ‘Use My Voice,’ Amy Lee tried to get the crowd fired up. Yelling things like ‘if you believe in hope’, ‘let’s use our voice,’ ‘stand together’… I hate to yada yada hope, and I do believe music can change things, but these were directionless, disappointing platitudes.

Onto, Muse.

Muse are the only conspiracy theorists I have time for because they attach the conspiracies to music that gets into your fast-twitch muscle fibres. All night I would look down into the pit and see tightly packed crowds with raised fists lurching with their bodies as one. Pumping the fist into the air in constant agreement with the band. This is fine; Muse songs are not dancy in the traditional sense.

Walking into Bell Centre, I found myself humming all the hooks I loved from Muse over the years. The bassline from ‘Hysteria,’ the bassline from ‘Time is Running Out.’ The bassline from ‘Starlight,’ ‘Madness,’ ‘Supermassive Black Hole’… you get the picture. The basslines provide the ear candy. They aren’t even simple; they just stick. And they are intense!

The intensity is there from the start, a huge set piece of the stage that at first looks like a burning cross but is revealed to be the letters WOP in pyrotech display. I can’t be the only one to have noticed that the hooky monster ‘Will Of the People’ is the perfect Muse answer to WAP.

‘Hysteria’ comes and goes too quickly with its furious yet surgically precise bassline- thrilling us all to gasps, shrieks, squeals, and/or screams. The outro solo seems so easy for Matt Bellamy that he can play it while he skips like an elf down the catwalk (yea, the catwalk yea). The band obviously relishes their catalog of hits.

Anyone not already desperate for Muse surely are 4 songs in. ‘Stockholm Syndrome’s’ calm first bridge is a brief moment of therapy. When we come back into the final chorus, we are convinced and we have fallen in love with our captors. What will they ask of us? We are powerless to stop them. 

Although there are very few energy dips all show, they exist, and it’s usually in the form of the between-song cutscenes. There seem to be two major characters or groups. A Guy Fawkes/Darth Vader/Kanye/Daft Punk masked character somehow supposed to imbue a sexy vigilante quality to the everyman. And we’re all supposed to identify with that. There’s also a demon-like character with horns that recalls the monsters of the old doom video games. Tough part is, there’s just no discernable story in it.

But there are bright spots, and it’s usually the music. ‘Verona’ is a lovely song. It’s a gap in my Muse knowledge, I don’t know how. Oh, I wasn’t looking and they shot coloured confetti at me. Coldplay must have had a surplus sale ahead of its environmental impact considerations tour.

‘Madness’ is incredible live, I really didn’t expect it to be so good, better than the record honestly. Chris Wolstenholme plays the XY pad on his double-necked bass and it’s mesmerizing, the aftertouch on the pad lingers as his thumb slides across, it’s a mind-blowing detail.

Dan Lancaster is a phenomenal extra band member; he deserves a mention here. His showcase is a hauntingly beautiful instrumental on guitar. Perched atop the shoulder of the giant stage set mannequin he plays like an apocalyptic David Gilmour. Slides and reverb glistening. He’s a star. 

For my favourite Muse song that apes the Dr Who theme ‘Uprising,’ I literally just stood up… appropriate. Fun to see Matt Bellamy playing his Thanos glove keyboard. I thought keytars were cool in a dorky way, these are up a rung.

Ultimately ‘Uprising’ is really all about us excitedly pretending to rise up against someone, not be controlled by them, be victorious against them, and chant “hey” during the best solo of the last couple of decades(?) Side note; when I find out who “they” are, I’m going to give them a piece of my mind. You know, the more I hear about “them”, the more I think “they” are a bunch of jerks.  

The encore has arrived and replaced the Darth Vader chrome head mannequin with the terrifying doom demon head and flaming pyro. It’s fine; I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight. “Oh, the 60-foot-high doom demon lumbers along to the music? Oh great… What else? He’s filled with hydrogen? (Probably just garden variety air, we say to ourselves.) And the pyro is shooting close to it? Greeaaaaat…” I’m not sure what’s more irresponsible, inciting people to be dubious of a nebulous fuzzy unknowable “them” or all the intense heat I’m dealing with a mere 300 feet away from the pyro plumes.

The show wraps up with the incredible ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, and honestly it’s such a relief to think back to the guitar hero days and forget about all the heavy stuff. If it seems like I was exhausted by the conspiracy theory stuff, it’s because I was. It’s not only anxiety-inducing, it’s boring. The saving grace was the music.

I’m mostly teasing. It’s all been fun. I get that it is entertainment commentary on our confusing precarious times. Muse gives us a direction for our discombobulation. A target we can’t hurt if we’re too busy punching out fists and relishing a huge rock spectacle. How much rioting and revolution can we engage in when we go home with refreshed memories of the time we discovered guitar hero? It’s escapism. It’s really good escapism. There, I think I figured it out.

I can check this incredible band off my list of those I want to see.  6 out of 10

Review – Mike Rogers
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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