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Muse At Madison Square Garden, Monday, April 15th, 2013, Reviewed

Of the Brit rock supergroups to invade and remain in the States, only three matter, and of the three Muse are the least popular and the best. But what does that say? That Matt Bellamy abstains from Chris martin's mewling egotism and Bono's Messianic braggadocio for a plainspeak rock star singlemindedness? Or that Muse as much as any one is a band live, that bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard are the very solid rhythm section who don't give the middleground to Matt all the time?

Or does it just note that U2 hasn't produced a decent album in the 21st Century and Coldplay are too eager to please on stage and you can make neither claim against Muse. A hardhitting hard rock band, who worked for a decade before breaking through and now, nearing their 20th anniversary, are the Protestant work ethic incarnate.

At Madison Square Garden last night, Muse were tough pros letting their LED pyramid power stage do the heavy lifting wow while they bottled down for a powerful set of mediocre rock. The day of the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, Matt, who dedicated "Survival" to the runners a couple of deals earlier, referenced them briefly before the National Anthem and before  encore. "Let them hear you…" he commanded, which kind of explains why he doesn't speak to the audience over the length of the set . If ever a band didn't have an MC, that band is Muse. Despite his rock star posturing, Bellamy is a team player, he isn't a leader, even when he is in the middle of the audience glad handing.

This cipher in the middle of the stage works to Muse's advantage. The songs have two subjects, a sort of Playstation Hunger Games-y songs for revolution and survival. All very Rush-y and not remotely appropriate tonight except, of course, imagined horrors and successes are sometimes welcome, like religion or something. And, quieter intense introspective love songs, always a pleasure. On record it is all too much. The 2nd Law didn't go Gold in the States and it sure should have. But on stage it is a thrilling experience and the set didn't have a dead hole from one end to another. At their best they mix progressive hard rock with a sort of Queen bombast and Prince like vocals and opening with a sublime "Supremacy", they had changed direction within a couple of songs for a Hendrix-y "Star Spangled Banner" leading into an impressive "Panic Station".

By the time you reach "Madness", Bellamy is giving a subtle Bono impression and a little before that had played a stately and lovely "Explorers" on piano. The hits just keep on coming though it might have given the band pause at the loudness of the singalong to "House Of The Raising Sun", enough for Matt, in one of the exceedingly few times he spoke to the audience, telling them to singalong to "Time Is Running Out". 

The band have declaimed the "progressive" tag because they don't play extended solos, one of the few times they indulged themselves was Wolstenholme's on "Liquid State" but mostly, the band is at the beck and call of the songs.

The set reached its zenith with an overwhelming "Stockholm Syndrome" with the pyramid screens becoming a bank of televisions and closing down on the band. This is a very good song in a very good show. Much better than Coldplay have managed, Muse lose the power of a frontman but gain the unity of a band and everything is at service to an audience.

Grade: B+

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