PSYCHO REAPERS: MUSE’S RETURN TO HOUSTON
Muse, Photo: Provided by band
There were lasers, there were drones, and there were people to witness it. Rock band Muse, formed in 1994 in Devon, England, have maintained a vast and diverse fan base for these past twenty one years — from fans of rock, to electronica, to just fans of bands that put the effort into performing a show with lots of spectacles. Tuesday, December 1 was the first time Muse has played Houston since 2009, when they played at the Reliant Stadium, and their first time back in Texas since their two weekend performances at Austin City Limits in 2013.
As someone who goes to lots of concerts at small venues around town, I had this naive mindset that I would not enjoy seeing a band in such a large venue, but I understood why shows, or at least this one, end up that way: it’s a huge production!. Once inside the venue, I climbed the vast amount of stairs, found my seat, and was ready to watch a show that I never expected I would see because of the venue.
The thing I thought was unique about the Toyota Center, besides the size, was the fact that they were spot-on with starting on time within their time restriction. I mean, the whole night was exactly on schedule, we even ended up having a few minutes to spare before Muse was supposed to end their set. The opener, Phantogram, seemed to have a decent sized crowd arrive early to see the band perform. I was in the reserved seats a good distance from the circular stage, but I could hear the voices of fans singing in the distance. Trying to be familiar with music my friends enjoy, I looked up Phantogram before the show to see if I would recognize any of their songs…I was pretty surprised that, besides the millions of plays some of their songs had on Spotify, I was not familiar with their work. With that being said, I did not enjoy their set as much as someone who owns all their work would have. I caught myself getting distracted by other things, like the PA above the stage or the bright, distracting lights, during certain portions of their set. Another thing that turned me off about the set was the fact that I had a difficult time understanding, on multiple occasions, what the two vocalists were singing.
As I’m sure Phantogram left an impression on fans, I am not too sure if I will purposely buy tickets to see their next, headlining set. Something that made for a good exit was when Sarah Barthel, one of the vocalists, stated that the song “Howling at the Moon” was originally called something along the lines of “Driving to Texas” due to the eery vibe the band got the first time they entered the state. It was a good experience to at least see the band for myself, I would like to see as many bands as possible. I think a good ideology to have is that not everyone will like every single band, and that is perfectly okay. Just like there are countless fish in the sea, there is a plethora of bands on your web player.
Once Phantogram left the stage they walked off into the backstage area, but shook the fans’ hands before they took off. I thought the layout of the walking path was pretty unique. It was a long trail that went around a portion of the stage. I’ve never seen something like that at a show. I can honestly say that I was impressed to see this. The rest of the seats slowly began to fill as the crowd got back from lines for restrooms, ten dollar drafts, and eighty-five dollar hoodies. I could feel the anticipation that the thousands of fans were eager to release via the top of their lungs and with their feet. At that moment I was suddenly more intrigued to see Muse begin the set: Their debut show in the United States for their “Drones” tour.
Production members were scrambling all over the stage to make sure everything was top notch. There were a couple of crew members that were on ropes being pulled up to the PA’s above the stage where these large, human-sized hamster balls were placed with just a string attached to them. A few minutes later everything started to begin. The lights began to dim, the audience created this massive rumble simply by hitting their hands together and there were yells, lots of yell, mostly for enthusiasm.
The “Drones” were the first one to walk towards the stage, these characters dressed up as to be almost Stormtrooper-ish. They appeared to portray security guards, but honestly, the concept of the costumes seemed more entertaining more than the practicality of it: Just a group of people in costumes, but it made the show that much better. Muse rose to the stage from the risers that were below the center and two sides of the stage. Everything about their set seemed to be filled with lots of surprises, I’m not sure how many people were expecting all of these elaborate plans, but as I said before, the Toyota Center was the best venue for this show because the stage production took as much planning, if not more, than the concert itself. The big hamster balls were pushed off the railings after the drones took their position facing the crowd while there was a quartet style harmonizing accompanied with soothing piano in the background accompanied by the pre-recorded harmonizing of the band.
Once Muse finally took the stage, the sea of Snapchats and photography (most likely that turned into filtered trainwrecks for future Instagram posts) took over the first few rows, but it seamlessly worked as it contributed to the light portion of the show. The band started their set with the massive hit “Psycho.” I think this was a good choice because it started the show off on the correct foot that had everyone on their feet and just having a good time. After “Psycho,” they brought out a couple of tracks from “Drones” including the track “Reapers.” Towards the middle of their twenty-one song setlist, one of the most elaborate moments of the entire night, for me, occurred. During the bass-heavy track “Uprising,” the song had two different false starts due to a technical difficulty with the bass, if you could believe that. I thought that the irony added a sense of humor to the night. Muse ended the show with “Knights of Cydonia,” which featured a clip from Ennio Morricone’s acclaimed ‘Man with a Harmonica’ as the introduction alongside the confetti cannon that shot out huge amounts of paper and large balloons that the crowd passed around until they all popped.
Once the time came for everyone to leave, I saw the sincerity that the audience had for the show. I was impressed by how well and similar to the records Muse sounded. This is a band that I would definitely enjoy seeing again. From what I saw that night, Muse deserves every bit of success they have achieved. They seemed to enjoy playing and they knew how to keep the connection between band-and-fan strong, and that is one of the most important factors of being in a band.