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Three Songs No Flash

Supermassive Black Hole (In Your Wallet): The Trouble With Muse At Wembley
Jeremy Allen , September 15th, 2010 08:19

Although Jeremy Allen can't help but find Muse's Wembley megashow stirring, the Stadium experience leaves a sour taste

The Muse phenomenon is perplexing. Having nearly lost teeth defending An Origin of Symmetry when people all around dismissed it as the product of prog Radiohead-lite pretenders, it remains astonishing that I'm watching Muse at Wembley Stadium. On their second night forsooth! Still derided as prog Radiohead-lite by most of my friends, to begrudge Muse the success they've had would be churlish, and watching thousands upon thousands of people braving pissing rain to leaping in unison to ‘Uprising' is enough to bring me out in goosebumps. Their success is a triumph of hard work and virtuosity. It's the tale of three lads from the arse-end of nowhere realising their dreams and getting to the top of their game by being able to play exceedingly well and show off. It's a very American story, not one you'd expect to begin in Teignmouth. Each born a year prior to a Conservative government in 1979, Muse perhaps absorbed by osmosis the Thatcherite values of ambition, and despite their supposed political leanings, they're are a not only a rock band but a corporate behemoth in an industry where fewer and fewer artists have this sort of clout.

Strutting around the stage in what is essentially a giant amplifier that vaguely resembles the Southbank (until it is lit up which transmogrifies it into some kind of psychedelic, intergalactic space station that nicely compliments their space-age synthetic sound) Muse's set is, considering the context, quite arty. Interesting too are the extras who flood out from the stage at the outset carrying flags emblazoned with the words ‘They Will Not Control Us'. Covert visual messages flicker on screens and we surmise they're attempting to convey throughout that they're a band on our side trying to make sense of some autocratic world order. Black and white mugshots that have the look of Amnesty International literature appear with faces that scream "oppression". Another of the more poignant moments comes during ‘Ruled by Secrecy', a conspiratorial number wholly appropriate for a show played on September 11th, where the words flicker on screen one by one as Matt Bellamy's castrato-like falsetto sits hauntingly on top:

"You're working so hard," he wails, "And you're never in charge / Your death creates success / Rebuild and suppress..."

It's a strong moment, yet it's also just a shame that I can't help feeling it smacks of hypocrisy. We're at Wembley Stadium for a start. Having climbed escalators, been searched and refused re-entry to this concrete and glass monstrosity should I fancy a cigarette during the next two hours, the whole experience feels more like waiting at an airport than being at a gig. Our seats in Club Wembley, which on match days are usually reserved for corporate hospitality denying real football fans around 30% of all tickets, are so far from the stage that its barely possible to actually see Matt Bellamy (though gigantic bass player Chris Wolstenhume's Flat Eric head movements are, along with the Great Wall of China, probably the only thing visible from outer space). The sound too is atrocious. Why can't they put speakers around the massive auditorium rather than take the traditional method of firing out sound only where the band are so it gets lost and eaten and garbled in the massive dome, with the bass sounding as tiny as a transistor radio? I've heard better sub-woofers on the bus.

Stewart Lee recently did a routine about Adrian Chiles, a man who looks "for all the world like a Toby Jug that has somehow learnt to speak. A Toby Jug, filled to the brim with hot piss." Attacking Chiles' supposed charitable altruism, Lee points out that having earned £61,500 for shaving his beard off for Comic Relief, Chiles should grow and remove his beard every week, thus earning charity £3,198,000 in a year. But he won't do that. Similarly Muse, by playing Wembley on two occasions are shortchanging their fans. With tickets around £45 a pop, Muse will scoop around £7,000,000 from these two shows, and that's before they've even sold a shirt. While flying saucers don't come cheap, surely the whole point of a group that are anti-establishment is that they don't play places like Wembley, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on special effects that only the ten per cent or so up front can see properly.

Because he's an arse, Tony Blair's mate Bono isn't going to stop spinning around in a multi-million pound lemon to save starving kids in Africa, but Muse are younger and brighter and come from a different generation of rock stars who shouldn't be mimicking the vainglorious phoniness of the old guard. As a corporate entity Muse should be displaying corporate social responsibility, which doesn't mean generating huge amounts of carbon emissions and making as much cash as possible before taking the money and running. Having seen them play a truly tremendous gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire a few years back, one wonders why they couldn't play a long residency in such a venue, allowing fans get up close and personal. And when they get tired they can just thank fuck they're not working for the man, shut up, keep playing, and be grateful people are still buying their records.

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