Review: Muse enters the space age at Montreal’s Bell Centre

The first-rate power trio didn’t get obscured by the dazzling sci-fi set pieces of its Simulation Theory tour.

Muse’s Matt Bellamy at the Bell Centre in Montreal, March 30, 2019. Christinne Muschi / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Give Muse this much: they know how to make an entrance.

It’s difficult to recall the last Bell Centre show that kicked off with a Tron-suited trombone corps in march formation. By the time frontman Matt Bellamy ascended into view amid a rainbow of lasers Saturday, the English trio had locked down the sci-fi aesthetic of its Simulation Theory tour, and confirmed they continue to dream up some of the most innovative arena stagings of the last decade.

They made excellent use of the cavernous bowl of a room, with a jagged walkway cutting through the general-admission floor, ominous prison lights mounted at the exits, widescreen visuals that transformed with almost every song, and a 22nd-century fluorescent-outlined stage that seemed wider than the arena itself. It felt both immense and intimate, as Bellamy in particular took pains to play to the sold-out crowd of 17,270 with frequent trips down the catwalk and via some carefully choreographed mugging for the cameras. Decked out in an array of space-age shades and hamming it up with guitar squeals and squalls, he was both an unreadable cipher and a lovable eccentric.

Muse’s Matt Bellamy makes a memorable entrance at the Bell Centre. Christinne Muschi / MONTREAL GAZETTE

The disguised dancers/trombonists/techies enhanced the cyber-weirdness without getting in the way. They transformed into a hazmat-suited lighting crew, suspended in mid-air and armed with hand-held spotlights, when the band churned through the down-tuned crunch of Break It to Me. They were futuristic ghostbusters in Propaganda, punctuating the mutant funk with blasts from dry-ice bazookas. Only once were they a distraction, parading in the background as Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme huddled on the secondary stage for Dig Down’s acoustic gospel — a precious moment of relative understatement that added value to the big-budget circus surrounding it.

Anchoring all of this, rather than getting obscured by the high-tech toys, was a first-rate power trio. Wolstenholme’s in-the-red overdrive remains astonishing; Howard can swing from dexterous to all-out thunder in a snap; and Bellamy’s guitar-as-orchestra experimentation puts him in league with the likes of Tom Morello and Adrian Belew. In a gripping Hysteria and Time Is Running Out, they reminded that the outlandish staging wasn’t a necessity. But it certainly made an impression when Bellamy got Shakespearean in Take a Bow, spitting his operatic disgust at a skull that was engulfed in flames on screen; when the lyrics to Madness flashed across his shades; or when robots and a vintage arcade game turned Algorithm into a 1980s fever dream.

Amazingly, this seemed stripped down compared to the 2016 Bell Centre shows on Muse’s dystopian Drones tour. It was also considerably more light-hearted, especially when Bellamy narrowly avoided disappearing through a malfunctioning trapdoor during an otherwise inspirational Starlight.

That Spinal Tap moment was soon dwarfed — along with everything else — by Muse’s Iron Maiden moment. As the band tore into the savage Stockholm Syndrome, a gargantuan helmet-headed skeleton/alien/robot nightmare rose up, vainly swatting at the musicians with a clawed fist during a breathless metallic medley that culminated in New Born. It was powerful, it was goofy, it was great fun — it was Muse in a nutshell.

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