Muse blows people back with spectacle at Consol

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For a band that was written off from the outset as another Radiohead knockoff, Muse has found a way to thrive on arena and stadium stages around the world.

What it hasn't done is built much of a fan base in Pittsburgh yet, having played its last show here nearly a decade ago at Mr. Smalls.

For its long-awaited return on Sunday night the British art-rock band played to about a half house at Consol Energy Center touring on its sixth album, "The 2nd Law."

Muse's rep as a live band goes beyond the air-tight musicianship and massive sound to include a dazzling light, laser and video show that was on full display from the start when a pyramid of five screens descended upon the stage so majestically you half-expected Bono to saunter out.

On its pricey piece of stagecraft, Muse launched into "Supremacy" with riffs so souped-up it sounded like giants playing guitar strings the size of rig cables.

It's borderline bombast, and topping that thick sound is the falsetto of singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy that has little of the feeling or fragility of Thom Yorke's, which makes sense considering that Muse's songs sound more like battle cries -- for Transformers, not people.

"No one's going to take me alive! You and I must fight to survive!" from "Knights of Cydonia" (Rush, anyone?) about sums it up, if you can imagine that sung as dramatically as possible.

One might argue (if one really wanted to provoke a Muse fan) that the band is more about blowing people back with a tsunami of sound and flashy lights than moving them on a human scale. I will say that I was sold on the idea of taking a Muse record if I ever have the need to test out high-end audio equipment. It's pretty muscular stuff, which is why Muse has been slagged as "Radiohead for jocks."

Muse brought an extensive catalog of songs going back to early rockers like "Time is Running Out." The new wrinkle is that "The 2nd Law" flirts with dubstep, which might explain why "Panic Station" sounded like "Another One Bites the Dust" and the title track (in the encore) attacked like Skrillex.

Part of what brought people here were the radio hits -- "Madness" and "Uprising" -- which were offered with the expected amount of power and sheen, and were ecstatically received with fists in the air. Same goes for "Starlight," part of the rousing encore with "Survival," ending the spectacle, fittingly, with a cry of "Fight! Fight! Fight!"

If the apocalypse hits, there's a big place for Muse on the soundtrack

By contrast, Matthew Shultz of Cage the Elephant had a mere sliver of the stage to work his Jagger moves during the opening set, so it was only appropriate that there would be a song called "Back Against the Wall." He made a little more space by ripping off his shirt, a la Iggy Pop, and throwing himself into the crowd on more than one occasion.

The guitar-based Kentucky quintet eschews modern touches for a '70s sound that summons the fury of the Stooges or New York Dolls. The band showed a moody soulful side with "Come a Little Closer," but it was mostly thrashy rock 'n' roll from the manic "Sabertooth Tiger" and "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" to the Pixie-ish "Shake Me Down." It certainly was a counter-balance to the slickness of Muse.

"Thank you so so so much," the singer said slyly toward the end. "I enjoyed the closeness."

musicreviews

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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