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For 90-odd minutes Monday night at Bridgestone Arena, Muse gave a crash course in Arena Rock 101, at a time when such education is so direly needed. What started with many asking how Muse became big enough to play a venue that size ended with several thousand people wondering how they ever fit themselves into Mercy Lounge to see the same band years ago. LED walls leftover from the Vertigo tour? Check. Lasers? Check. Tommy Lee's rising, spinning drum riser? Check. Giant confetti-filled balls on loan from the Flaming Lips? Check. Mid-set acoustic/piano break? Check. Audience sing-alongs? Check plus. The only missing elements were an inflatable pig and Freddie Mercury in a leotard, but at least that leaves them somewhere to go next time.
While Muse borrowed liberally from the U2 playbook, right down to Matt Bellamy's Rattle and Hum audience spotlight, they learned their lessons from playing on Bono's spaceship and managed to artfully avoid getting eclipsed by their own stage. This was largely due to the quality of the songs, drawn fairly evenly from their last three uniformly excellent LPs and delivered with the kind of precision not seen since Rush last played Starwood.
A few years ago, it was hard to imagine Muse reaching arena status in the States, but they've solved the dilemma of becoming mainstream in the digital age. By taking a nation of niche audiences and appealing to all of them -- from metalheads waiting for "Stockholm Syndrome" to Radiohead fans who fell for "New Born," they managed to launch a magnificently overblown arena tour playing prog-rock to teenagers and twentysomethings. And that, more than the heat generated from the massive light show, warmed our geeky musical heart.