The Drones Tour was everything the ‘Drones’ album failed to be: clever, inspiring and spectacular.
The Songs of Praise crossed cult ceremony hymn ‘Drones’ announced Muse’s landing in London in a spiritual manner. As eleven remote-controlled drones looking like rogue London Eye pods engaged in some sort of mid-air synchronised swimming routine, it became evident that the stadium-rock pioneers were embarking on their most ambitious tour yet.
If ‘Drones’ was a subdued introduction, ‘Psycho’ was anything but. The Teignmouth trio unleashed the lead from 2015 album ‘Drones’ on the packed O2 Arena. The jumpable army drill anthem swiftly reinforced their position as the widely acknowledged best live band in the world. Drummer Dominic Howard, (as far as my Muse musings are concerned, a dead ringer for Kian Egan of Westlife), instigated the next round of carnage kicking in the opening drumbeat for ‘Reapers’ before frontman Matt Bellamy displayed the fingerpicking of arguably the best guitarist in the world today. So impressive is his shredding, sliding and strumming, it could possibly bring about world peace. If anyone had wandered into the concert unaware of what they were about to witness, the opening number ‘Drones’, the flying drones and the screams of ‘Here come the drones’ in ‘Reapers’ were probably enough to remind people.
The ferocious start continued with usual staple of a Muse gig ‘Plug in Baby’, which has interestingly and controversially been reduced to a mere interchangeable set-filler on this Drones Tour. As possibly the band’s biggest song, its unstapling is like going to Nandos and not getting chicken. We were also subject to the heavy-metal flirting ‘Stockholm Syndrome’; the Tom Morello-inspired ‘Citizen Erased’, a welcome inclusion from the seminal ‘Origin of Symmetry’; and Morgan Nicholls, Muse’s touring member, demonstrated what can only be described as the most furious maraca playing ever seen on the supermassive ‘Supermassive Black Hole’.
During ‘Undisclosed Desires’ Bellamy sported a pair of flashing red glasses as though he was on a bloke called Gaz’s legendary stag-do in Magaluf. While he has ditched his lyric-listing glasses for ‘Madness’ from the previous tour, the frontman instead assumed these migraine-inducing spectacles. This proved to be just the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading me to call for the sacking of the band stylist. The trio dressed head to toe in all-black padded, stitched and generally awful attire resembling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The same could not be said for the production team, though. As far as show production is concerned, it was flawless. With the flying drones, the unfurled curtain banners, the politically charged graphics, the confetti-filled balloons, and the spinning central stage combined with the double-headed arrow shaped platforms spanning almost the length of the arena floor. It enabled a truly 360-degree, U2-esque experience and an equally engaging affair not just for those standing but for those in the heavens of the arena. Complex, yes. Self-indulgent, yes. But innovative, ground-breaking and brilliant, yes.
During ‘Time is Running Out’ Bellamy’s extraordinary vocal range permeated throughout the O2; his falsettos sounding like a strangled cat but in the best possible way. This complemented the unmistakable bass line of Chris Wolstenholme. Although the guitar work steals the headlines, Muse’s mute bassist mustn’t be overlooked, with iconic contributions to ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Madness’, most notably. ‘Munich Jam’ was just one of a number of solos on the night, but the only time when Wolstenholme and Howard were able to steal the limelight from Bellamy, largely because he had retreated off stage to collect his next guitar.
The Muse faithful transformed into an army of over 20,000 to the marching tune of ‘Uprising’. As Bellamy declared:
‘They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious’
His followers willingly obliged, complimenting the chorus with ‘Hey’ chants and fist pumps. This confirmed what had already developed as a theatre-like performance, not just for its Les Miserables revolution-provoking music.
From its western-style opening all the way to its triumphant piano finale via a hard rocking filling, ‘The Globalist’ proved its worth as merely a Bohemian Rhapsody rip-off. An ominous Thunderbirds 2-spaceship-drone –thing, meanwhile circled the audience only serving to distract me. The ten minute track is just one of the flaws of ‘Drones’ which was admittedly incorrectly deemed the Best Rock Album at this year’s Grammys, which gives me hope that my forthcoming album about global warming played on the spoons could win next year. It could be worse, however, Bellamy could have ‘done a Chris Martin’ and followed his split with actress Kate Hudson by producing an album as bad as Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’. ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Drones’ certainly is not.
After a reprise of the ‘Drones’ hymn, the band returned with a jubilant rendition of Mercy, a ‘Drones’ highlight. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ epically concluded the set. The Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock classic that caused so much distress for so many wannabe rockstars caused both delight and havoc amongst the crowd. A record-breaking crowd boarded a UFO-resembling O2 Arena and the space rock trio were the soundtrack for two terrific hours. The Drones Tour has seen Muse surpass previous live efforts, resetting the bar for music concerts to new heights by which all artists must now aspire to reach.