As happy as I was to gallivant around Tokyo for a few days, my entire reason for being there was simple: Muse. I’m not at all shy about my fanaticism for Muse. The first time I saw them was November 16, 2009 at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany. The night before tickets went on sale, I had probably gone through practice runs on the German ticketing site a half dozen times. Tickets would go on sale at 9 a.m. local time, which meant I had to be wide-awake at 3 a.m. so I wouldn’t be relegated to the nosebleed section (or whatever the German equivalent was). At approximately 3:02 a.m., I was jumping around and dancing like a lunatic because I’d gotten fourth row seats.
My first Muse show was almost three and a half years ago. Since Cologne, I’ve seen them stateside twice: once in Philadelphia and once in Columbus. In September 2010, I crossed the Atlantic to see one of their bombastic arena shows at the Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester. All of my concert tickets are sitting pretty in a picture frame at home in America. At university, my room walls were papered in huge prints of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme, and Dominic Howard.
All that being said, I admit that Muse have gone downhill in recent years. Drastically. Their new albums display a shadow of the quality that their older records, especially Absolution and Origin of Symmetry, showed. Nowadays, they catch a lot of flak for static setlists and uninspired lyrics.
Now when I say that Muse are my favorite band, I say it with an apologetic cringe. “I know, I know, they’ve gone down the route of dubstep and other ridiculous gimmicks, but I promise, the old stuff can’t be beat,” I want to justify.
And yet, I never want to stop seeing them live. Muse shows are, to put it lightly, pretty awesome. As lackluster as they have become in the recording studio, Muse still know how to rock a venue. When I moved to Japan, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d see Muse if they toured while I lived here. For a lot of Muse fans, Asia is the Holy Grail of venues and for good reason. Asian shows tend to get songs that are either very old (and therefore better) or extremely rare.
That’s why I was camped out in front of my local Loppi machine (where I buy my concert tickets) at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning in November. I was determined to get tickets to not one but both of the shows in Tokyo. I couldn’t risk picking only one night, especially for an Asia show, for fear of missing out a better setlist. A lot of thought – perhaps too much – had gone into this decision.
Muse concerts aren’t known for their subtlety; no, Muse is the band that constantly tries to top themselves for each subsequent tour. More lasers, more strobe lights, more…everything. And while their shows tend to be a bit bombastic and over-the-top, I love every minute of it. This tour cycle has been no different. I’d also managed to keep myself completely ignorant in terms of setlists and stage setup so I wouldn’t know what was coming.
And the men were in fine form in Tokyo. I was happy to see Matt Bellamy, the vocalist and guitarist, looking the part of the traditional sexy rock star, all in black and leather. He tends to go a bit wacky sometimes…not that that’s a bad thing.
From the very beginning, I was a wreck. It had been a long, long 26 months since I’d seen Muse in concert, and I’d forgotten how the music cuts through you like a razor wire. I’d forgotten how Chris’s bass is so loud and deep that it makes your jeans vibrate against your leg. I’d forgotten how the guitar lines somehow find a seat at the base of your spine. And I’d forgotten just how goddamn fun a Muse concert is, from the crowd vocalizing (horribly) the opening guitar line from “Knights of Cydonia” to dancing to “Supermassive Black Hole” to singing the second chorus from “Time Is Running Out” to clapping along to the ‘TITS’ Morse code drums of “Map of the Problematique.” And the atmosphere in Tokyo was unlike any other Muse show I’d been to, just because of the vast variety of fans there. Salarymen, still in their suits and ties with their briefcases at their feet, sang along just as robustly as the university students beside them.
Even though the new album, The 2nd Law, was largely a disappointment, I couldn’t help but enjoy the new songs, especially “Supremacy” and “Panic Station,” immensely. The James Bond vibe of the first comes to life in a live venue, and dancing to “Panic Station” was probably the most fun I had both nights. Even “Survival,” a track that I skip without fail on the album, proved to be a trip and a half.
And it’s funny the way songs, especially their visuals, had changed. I remembered “Plug In Baby” with purple lights and green lasers, not with neon pink and white visuals. “Starlight” has always been blue and gold for me, not vibrant red. Some things, though, thankfully don’t change; “Knights of Cydonia” and “Stockholm Syndrome,” the two truly huge rock epics, can never be anything but red and gold.
Both nights had their pleasant surprises. The big shocker for the Friday show was that “Exogenesis: Redemption”, the third part of the mini “symphony” from 2009’s The Resistance got trotted out as the second piano-centric track (right before “Explorers,” a new song that is honestly dreadful). This song has never been played live, so I really couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the first piano strains. The visuals aren’t so clear in the video, but the Japanese artist Tekken created them, and they really fit perfectly with the song. And because I’m a giant sentimental sap, I couldn’t help but tear up. (In fact, when I found the video of the performance on YouTube, I started getting misty-eyed yet again.)
Whenever Muse play two consecutive nights in the same venue, the second show always, without fail, gets the better setlist. It’s something you can always bet on. And they didn’t disappoint. First, one of my favorite tracks, “Bliss” from 2001’s Origin of Symmetry got played in place of another track, “Resistance,” that I’m not too fond of. I’ve never seen “Bliss” before, and I’d never expected to, either. I couldn’t help but shriek “No way!” as I heard the opening guitar line, and the people sitting next to me, for whom this was their very first Muse show, turned to me in confusion. They didn’t know how lucky they were.
Then, “Sunburn,” another old tune that I’d never seen (but always wanted to), showed up as the second piano song. I wouldn’t have cared if those were the only two songs played on the second night. I would’ve gone home happy.
By the time the last spouts of steam had dissipated and the last guitar chord had faded away on Saturday night, I had reached that dizzying, delirious kind of happy that only a Muse concert can bring me to. Before the Saturday show had begun, the girl beside me, a Bulgarian exchange student studying abroad in Tokyo, had asked me, “Why do you keep coming to see them? You’ve already seen them five times before. Isn’t it the same every time?” I could only chuckle and tell her, “Wait until after the show. Then you will understand.” And it wasn’t twenty minutes into the show (coincidentally right in the middle of “Panic Station”) that she turned to me and said, “I get it now. I totally understand.” It doesn’t take a lot to see the light.
And the best part? Round seven isn’t even that far off. Muse are coming back. In August. For Summer Sonic. It’s only seven months away. You’ll find me hanging over the barrier, singing along at the top of my lungs to “Stockholm Syndrome.”