Somewhere amidst the lasers, block pyramid of video screens and strobe lights, it became clear that Muse had returned arena rock back to Utah.
Playing at EnergySolutions Arena Thursday night, the British rock group powered through a set of heavy distortion, virtuosic lyrics and showmanship that electrified a nearly-full arena.
After an opening set by Cage the Elephant, Muse dug deep into their catalogue, featuring older songs like “Time is Running Out” and “Sunburn” to current radio hits like “Madness” and new tracks like “Panic Station.”
After an ordinary start that included 2006 hit “Supermassive Black Hole,” the group hit its stride with “Knights of Cydonia,” another song from the same year.
The song began with bassist Chris Wolstenholme playing a harmonica with a haunting circus piano in the background. As the song picked up steam, the iconic galloping drum fill coupled with lead singer and guitarist Matthew Bellamy’s industrial-sounding lead-in evoked something otherworldly, the soundtrack of an outer space spaghetti western combined with a taste of anarchy.
Alien sounds, astronaut chatter and video game guitar noises accentuated Bellamy’s lyrics that delved heavily into science fiction and political unrest. Both Bellamy’s and Wolstenholme’s guitars featured a string of lights that glowed white, green and red throughout and both used instruments that could be played using a touchpad.
However, despite the heavy use of effects and neon colors, the raw talent of the band wasn’t lost in the shuffle. Bellamy was unfailingly crisp in his solos and his falsetto register, while Wolstenholme provided driving bass lines time and again, especially during “Panic Station.” Drummer Dominic Howard was solid all evening and produced several admirable drum fills when called upon. Bellamy even dazzled with his playing of the keys, sitting behind a grand piano for songs like “Sunburn” and “Butterflies and Hurricanes.”
“Madness” drew the biggest cheer of the night, as Bellamy wore sunglasses with video screens that displayed the song’s lyrics (which also played on the block pyramid screens). The crowd also appreciated “Plug In Baby,” in which Bellamy drew Nintendo-like sounds from his guitar and shredded through the 2001 hit before closing with an outro reminiscent of Queen guitarist Brian May.
Toward the end, the set dragged and some casual fans in the crowd looked bored as the band took creative freedom with “Unnatural Selection,” but the crowd on the floor soldiered on and looked just as enraptured as the beginning of the show.
Muse ended the regular set on 2009’s “Uprising” and left the stage, but the crowd waved glowing phones in the heavy smoke produced by the stage show until the band came back out for an encore. “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” was yet another curveball in the band’s set, embracing the popular dubstep phenomenon as the younger crowd members raged along with the grimy beat.
Following two more encore songs, the band finally retired for the night, but not without one more stage spectacle of bright neon colors displayed across multiple screens. It looked more like “Tron” than a Thursday night gig in Salt Lake City, but the band delivered a spectacle reminiscent of the glory days of arena rock.