Alone in a Crowd 

In Defense of Muse

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THERE WAS A TIME when arenas and stadiums did not solely exist to house teams of sport. Rock concerts were once commonplace within such cavernous halls—until the great meteorite of downloading and declining revenues snuffed out the arena music dinosaurs. In recent years, dependable names like Kanye West and Bruce Springsteen have failed to fill the Rose Garden to capacity, and a task once attainable by either Elton John or his domestic counterpart Billy Joel now requires both at the same time. Last year there were only seven shows at the Rose Garden that could fall under the rock umbrella (Celtic Thunder does not count), and as time progresses and the old standbys (the Eagles, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith) hang it up for good, this number will only continue to decrease. (Quick, name one recent American rock act that can perform in a stadium! Nice try, but Nickelback is Canadian.)

While stadiums as concert venues join platinum records and expense report categories for cocaine as yet another antiquated element of the music industry's gilded peak, there are still a few holdouts from this bygone area—namely British trio Muse. Arena rock's omega men, Muse embarked on a large-scale musical endeavor whose over-the-top theatrics begged for larger venues even when the band was still slogging through the London club circuit.

Muse's earliest days were spent clinging to Radiohead's coattails before cashing in their chips and going big. With last year's bombastic The Resistance, Muse now lays claim to a parcel of musical real estate closer to Queen than any other band (including Paul Rodgers). It's little secret that singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy (joined by bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard) borrows heavily from the Mercury/May playbook in sheer aspiration. The Resistance's poorly named "United States of Eurasia (+Collateral Damage)" sounds so similar to Queen that it borders on parody. Lyrically, Bellamy takes the American Idiot approach, penning ambiguous pop anthems that rally with clenched fists against unseen enemies (sample song titles: "Uprising," "Resistance," "Assassin"), swapping tangible lyric content for vague fight song anthems aimed at a numbed generation of alt-rock followers.

While Muse's lyrics might be indistinct and directionless, their live show certainly is not. The Resistance tour finds the band performing high atop three raised monolithic slabs, complete with scrolling digital screens both above and below the band. As far as complicated stadium rock stage setups go, it ranks somewhere between the comical ambition of Tommy Lee's spinning drummer ball and the sheer arrogance of the $40-60 million price tag of U2's 360° Tour.

Despite such excess, Muse's undistinguishable nature makes them a baffling addition to the rarified ranks of stadium rockers. While they possess a handful of vaguely memorable alt-rock singles, none have made a lasting impression on the pop charts. So why is Muse playing in the house that Paul Allen's money built? Mainly because they sound like they should be. In volume and expansive arrangements alone, Muse might be grander than any band of the last decade, a colossal rock and roll outfit that looks like the final vestige of a dying breed.

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