“If you do not do what you’re told to do when you’re told to do it you will be punished, do you understand?”
“If you leave my base without proper authorization I will hunt you down and throw your ass in jail. Do you understand?”
“I can’t hear you!”
Unable to hide their anticipation for the act they’d come to see, the crowd screamed in response to a skeletal drill sergeant’s orders on a screen taller than most homes. Muse pulled out all the stops for this leg of their Simulation Theory Tour, perfectly blending theatrics and realism in a way few have accomplished.
Walk The Moon opened, but the night had begun hours before for Houston fans. Hundreds had lined up outside hours before the concert. When doors opened at 6:30 p.m., fans waited over an hour more for the show.
The house lights never came back on after the opening act. Instead, blue, red, and green black lights slowly alternated through the pitch black, making all neon and white articles of clothing shine early enough to match the background music. They were setting a mood, preparing the audience for the show in a way I’ve never seen in my 200+ shows.
Finally, the music swelled and blended into “Algorithm,” to which the audience sung along to at the top of their lungs. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the sound of synchronized stomping; all turning to see two columns of LED-clad soldiers marching down the catwalk holding trumpets as muskets.
They played and danced in a circle at the end of the catwalk. Then Matt Bellamy came up through a trapdoor at the center. The trumpeters continued to play around him as he held up what looked like a glass orb. It activated, sending rainbow rays shooting all across the Toyota Center.
This spectacle ended when the first notes of “Pressure” sliced through the air, waking the crowd from their awed state with squeals of recognition. After “Psycho,” Bellamy proceeded to ditch his studded leather jacket and LED sunglasses and greeted the audience with a hello.
You’d think this would be an opportunity for performers and techies alike to take a breather and regroup after such a heavy intro, but you’d be dead wrong. During the blackout, many noticed and pointed out four people in white hazmat suits hanging from the ceiling, barely illuminated by the stage lights. Then “Break It To Me” began, and they were slowly lowered as the song progressed. Then they started to move in time with the music, the pink circles on the screen behind them simultaneously flowing like bubbles in a lava lamp. This set the precedent for the rest of the show. Everything was perfectly timed to the music. Nothing was unintentional or meaningless.
“Uprising” was next, evoking involuntary shouts of joy from old and young alike. Everyone clapped along to Dominic Howard’s drums as they danced and sang. Unlike any other rock show I’ve ever been to, the crowd wasn’t crashing into each other. This was not without reason, and the only people not full on jumping and dancing were those taking a break to film a clip for social media.
The crowd represented a surprisingly diverse age range. I had a couple in their 50’s behind me and a group of high school teens to my right- and everything in between covered the rest of the floor. Age though didn’t factor into anyone’s level of delight when female soldiers strutted out with futuristic-looking muskets during “Propaganda.” The concluded with them spraying everyone with a cold powdery mist.
“Plug In Baby” did the impossible by getting an even wilder reaction from the crowd. Things calmed down as much as possible during “Supermassive Black Hole,” the band sticking to the stage for most of the song. But that’s not to say there was a single dull moment to be had. The next couple of songs were spiced up by lights, lasers, dancers, and an intimate moment with the band playing “Dig Down” at the edge of the catwalk in a cage of white light beams.
The night’s action again started to move towards an incline with “Madness” off of the sixth studio album The Second Law. Bellamy sang to a cameraman. The live feed projected his face on the big screen during the beginning of the song so the words flashing across his LED sunglasses were clear for all to see. The way the crowd screamed the final “I need to love,” with some shedding a few unexpected tears, served to disprove any remains of the initial backlash Muse got for the single back in 2012. The then drastic departure from their previous style is perfectly integrated with the rest of their work with the seceding releases up until now with Simulation Theory (2018).
The cathartic hit continued all throughout “Mercy,” climaxing with a thick shower of neon confetti that seemed to fall forever. The crowd bounced around clear balloons filled with glow sticks, eventually popping them to wave the neon rods around instead. Matt Bellamy was ankle-deep in confetti every time he walked down the catwalk up until “Starlight.”
The band returned for an encore soon after. As Bellamy played a keyboard solo on the catwalk, two performers in transformer-esque robots came out to move in time with a reprise of “Algorithm.” The next riff announced the beginning of “Stockholm Syndrome,” but the song took a backseat to the giant metallic head beginning to peak over the edge of the stage. Houston went wild as an inflatable robot was puppeteered out on to the stage, first one arm, then another. It adjusted and moved up a little more during the medley, finally shocking everyone as it began to swipe at Bellamy. This culminated in a short fight between his guitar and the robot’s fingers before he was allowed to continue the set. The Medley finished with “Newborn,” a beloved classic off their 2001 debut, Origin of Symmetry. Much to everyone’s approval, “Knights of Cydonia” closed the night. The people shuffled out of the Toyota Center in a satisfied daze; some collecting confetti from the ground, others rushing to beat the crowd to the merch stands.
When measuring against my personal standards and the hundreds of shows I’ve seen, it’s really hard to bump someone from my top ten. Muse accomplished that on Friday, Feb. 22nd. Their show is an experience I highly recommend you attend at least once. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan or not, you will definitely be immersed in the simulation theory… even if it’s just for one night.