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Concert Reviews:
Muse mixes visual, musical impact at Joe Louis Arena
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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DETROIT -- "You've got one hell of a night ahead of you," X Ambassadors frontman Sam Harris told the Joe Louis Arena crowd on Thursday, Jan. 14, referencing headliner Muse.

Dude had a keen grasp of the obvious.

One does not come to a Muse show expecting anything less than pure spectacle. The British trio -- abetted by utility musician Morgan Nicholls -- has staked its live reputation on the same kind of inventive theatrics as forebears such as Pink Floyd, U2 and Cirque du Soleil, decking out its proggy rock anthems with visual pizzazz to create a universe within the buildings its playing. It's been a winning formula, and Muse's Drones Tour was certainly up to form on Thursday.

Ironically performed before the smallest crowd the group has drawn in these parts since 2007 at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, the show was Muse's most sophisticated and elaborate yet. The stage, which stretched nearly the entire length of the arena floor, allowed the group to play 360 degrees, using a rotating center area and long ramps for singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme. Bulbous real drones flew overhead during several songs -- including the frenetic opener "Psycho" -- while translucent screens hosted arresting projections and silhouettes for a larger-than-life footprint; the best sequence came during "The Handler," when Bellamy and Wolstenholme appeared to be "controlled" by strings attached to large hands above them on the screens.

There were some standard concert trappings -- confetti and streamers (red and white in the home of the Red Wings, too) during an encore version of "Mercy" -- but Muse eschewed pyrotechnics or lasers, and they weren't missed in a show that had a more artful kind of reserve than its predecessors.

And the music was never relegated beneath the visuals. Muse played with its usual pounding swagger, Bellamy delivering extended guitar heroics on songs such as "Reapers" and "Hysteria," the latter of which incorporated a riff from AC/DC's "Back In Black"). Six of the hour-and-50-minute show's 20 songs hailed from "Drones" -- including the intricate suite "The Globalist" -- while favorites such as "Map of the Problematique," "Soupermassive Black Hole," "Resistance," the throbbing, electro "Madness" and the fail-safe "Uprising" -- were carefully deployed for maximum dynamic effect.

By the time the night finished things with the bombastic "Knights of Cydonia," the Joe Louis audience was sated but satisfied by another standard-setting exposition that Muse will have to go some ways to top.

X Ambassadors, meanwhile, started the night with a well-received seven-song set that let the group sample its debut album, "VHS," and let the crowd know it has more to offer than its platinum hit "Renegades." The quartet capably covered plenty of stylistic ground, from the soulful "Hang On" and "Gorgeous" to the aggressive "Jungle," although the group didn't seem to fit well in the in-the-round setting -- particularly not Harris, who spent most of his time un- or under-lit throughout the 40 minutes onstage.



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