In the 30 minutes before Muse took the stage, the houselights stayed low, colored lights stationed around State Farm Arena flickered and instrumental music that ranged from planetarium-style synthesizers to gently pulsing EDM mesmerized the crowd.
Then the sensory assault began.
»»PHOTOS: See our complete gallery from the show
The British trio of Matt Bellemy (guitar, vocals), Dominic Howard (drums) and Chris Wolstenholme (bass) is about halfway through the 21 dates on the North American leg of its “Simulation Theory” tour. They will roam the world through July, and by the end of the run, more than three dozen cities will have experienced one of the most sleek, visually arresting shows on the arena circuit.
Opening with the double punch of two new songs – “Algorithm” and “Pressure” - from their eighth album (also “Simulation Theory”), Muse basked in the neon glow of lasers and goggles, shrieking guitar licks and crushing drums.
In their 25 year career, the triumvirate has incited plenty of comparison to U2. But live, it’s what they bring to the stage that can be spotted in bands that followed – The Killers, The Strokes, even Coldplay.
Muse makes a mighty sound for three middle-aged dudes – and the sound at State Farm Arena defined deafening – but it’s all delivered cleanly and complemented by frenetic lights that force you to blink even though you want to gape at the visual blitz.
Bellemy is low-key-cool as a frontman, strolling the catwalk while spilling guitar riffs and delivering lyrics as if beckoning the listener to come closer. The upper range of his voice – a trademark of Muse’s songs – is lovely and his mid-range remained robust throughout the night.
There was much to appreciate in the two-hour show, from the sinewy backbeat that powered “Break it To Me,” to the extra drummers for the stadium stomper – and one of the band’s two U.S. hits – “Uprising,” which elicited much participation from the crowd that filled about three-fourths of the venue.
While the threesome, along with the elaborate lighting and cool video elements, would suffice for visual accoutrements, the addition of a pack of slithering “dancers” (really, more like stage actors) helped fill the vast stage. As dark-clad ninjas with steam guns, they prowled during “Propaganda” while Bellamy employed his falsetto over Howard’s crisp drums, and during “Thought Contagion,” they crawled, zombie-like, in a puff of dry ice as Bellemy sang at the end of the stage ramp.
Wolstenholme took a deserved turn in that ramp spotlight with his nimble bass work for the opening of “Hysteria,” from 2003’s “Absolution” album. It’s one of Muse’s heavier offerings and it gloriously rattled the railings – especially the coda of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
But Muse can temper the feverish explosion of their live show equally well. The band trotted down the ramp for a gospel-inflected, piano-heavy version of “Dig Down,” and Bellemy’s voice sounded especially angelic on the softly throbbing “Madness,” its dreamy lull interrupted only by a squealing guitar solo.
Whether continuing to unsettle the building’s foundation with “Mercy” or inciting another crowd singalong to “Time is Running Out,” Muse validated their musical prowess with an admirably ambitious showcase.
The poppier Walk the Moon opened the concert with a 40-minute set stuffed with their usual energy.
The quartet – singer/keyboardist Nicholas Petricca, guitarist Eli Maiman, drummer Sean Waugaman and bassist Kevin Ray – was joined by Lachlan West as an extra keyboardist and percussionist, the better to amplify Walk the Moon’s lush synth pop.
While the crowd was strangely tepid toward a band that is a frequent radio presence, that didn’t deter Petricca from bopping around the stage with his unique running-man-style dance moves or bouncing behind his keyboard during “Anna Sun” and “Kamikaze.”
The singer also reminded the crowd that Walk the Moon lived in Atlanta one summer while recording its 2012 self-titled album before unveiling their two biggest songs – the disco popper “One Foot” and 2014’s monster, “Shut Up and Dance,” an earworm much better appreciated now that it has faded from ubiquity.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.