Rise Up (Godfatherecords G.R. 437)
Admiralspalast, Berlin, Germany – 7 September, 2009
Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole, Hysteria, New Born, United States Of Eurasia, Starlight, Undisclosed Desires, Time Is Running Out, Unnatural Selection, Plug In Baby, Knights Of Cydonia
Bonus tracks: Walter Kerr Theater, New York, NY, USA – 13 September, 2009: Uprising, Resistance, United States Of Eurasia
Muse has become noted for large-scale and decidedly theatrical shows. Estella Hung, writing on the PopMatters website refers to the band as, “this decade’s most outrageous stadium-fillers. If it weren’t for those pesky health and safety regulations, the band’s frontman Matthew Bellamy would have had acrobats hanging off helicopters at their (double sell-out) Wembley gig in 2007.” Hung might be indulging in a little deliberate exaggeration, but she is not so far from the truth.
MuseBootlegs website reviewer Michael Hufnagel, commenting on the later Berlin concert at the O2 World on 30 October 2009, contends that, “it is the set that catches the eye most of the time. It is far more spectacular than the three guys that should be in focus. [The band members] appeared separately, imprisoned in the middle of three big rectangular columns, where they played surrounded by chrome-fences, like in a boxing ring. The illuminated towers could be moved up and down, laser beams…shone through the hall…it resembles more an art installation than the performance of musicians.”
However, before setting out on a tour of larger venues in support of their fifth album, The Resistance (initially with gigs in the USA supporting U2), the band played some untypically modest shows. These began with two concerts at The Den in their home town of Teignmouth in Devon on 4 and 5 September (under the banner “A Seaside Rendezvous”), followed by even smaller-scale concerts at the Admiralspalast in Berlin and the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on 7 and 8 September.
The Admiralspalast show, held a week before the release of the new album, was the smallest of the four, the venue having a mere 1,756 seats. It is therefore unsurprising that the Muse website advertised it as “an intimate show,” and that it was described on the last.fm site as an “exklusiven Clubkonzert live in intimer Atmosphare.” The other noteworthy aspect of the concert ia that it saw the debut of additional touring member Alessandro Cortini (keyboards, synthesizer, background vocals, percussion), filling in for regular Muse collaborator Morgan Nicholls, due to the latter’s impending fatherhood.
The concert itself was followed up during the next week by radio broadcasts of the majority of the songs on Radio Fritz and nine other German stations. Missing from the radio broadcasts, as listed on the band’s website, were: Map of the Problematique + Who Knows Who riff, Resistance, Interlude, Cave (keyboard), Popcorn [the much-covered Gershon Kingsley song that was a hit for Hot Butter in 1972 ] and Stockholm Syndrome + riff.
Matthew Bellamy greets the crowd with, “Guten Abend, Berlin,” and then the band launches into the opening song from The Resistance, Uprising. The song begins with a quasi-disco beat on bass and drums (though unfortunately without the handclaps of the album version) overlaid on synthesiser with what sounds suspiciously like the theme tune to the long-running British sci-fi TV show Dr Who, and then Bellamy enters with his call to arms against the oppressors.
The instrumental section features the band repeated shouting “hey!” in a manner reminiscent of glam rock star Gary Glitter’s backing group, The Glitter Band. Observer writer Ben Thompson calls the song, a “glitter-stomp melange of the Dr Who theme and Blondies’s Call Me.” Its likeness to Blondie’s Giorgio Moroder-produced single has not been lost on other reviewers; Uncut‘s Dave Lewis contends that the song, “takes a Goldfrapp-style schaffel beat and the ‘whoop-whoop’ riff from Blondie’s Call Me and marries them to some leftist sloganeering.” Uprising provides the show with a tremendously effective, swaggering start and the song is as catchy and addictive here as it is on the album.
Bellamy has been seen, not least by Lewis, as, “one of a breed of crackpots…prepared to believe any hare-brained conspiracy theory that counters the prevailing world view,” and the defiant lyrics of Uprising reflect this: “They will not force us/They will stop degrading us/They will not control us/We will be victorious.” In an interview with Lewis, when asked about the “Resistance” of the album’s title, Bellamy stated that it was partly “a resistance against the ‘general corporatocracy’ that John Perkins describes in his book, Confessions Of An Economic Hitman, in which he shows how big corporations are far more powerful than all of our governments.” In keeping with this idea of faceless corporations, “they” are never clearly identified in the song.
A wave of dissonant electronic noise introduces the next song, the heavy, bass-driven Supermassive Black Hole, the first single from the band’s previous album, Black Holes And Revelations, which Bellamy has described in interviews as “fun dance” and “quite funky” and influenced by his “going out dancing in clubs in New York.” He demonstrates his impressive range with the falsetto vocals, which weave their way through the sinuous bass and drum dominated instrumentation and the effectively subdued backing vocals until the song ends in a further welter of electronic noise.
The quiet instrumental opening of Hysteria, from the Absolution album, is moodily atmosperic and then the song crashes into life, full of energy and underpinned by what Wikipedia calls “its famous bass line” and Dominic Howard’s thunderous drumming. This version clearly justifies New Musical Express writer Dan Martin’s description of the song as “full on…power grunge.”
Then comes old favourite New Born, opening track from second album Origin Of Symmetry. Bellamy’s delicate, clockwork-sounding keyboard opening has the audience immediately clapping along enthusiastically, and after this, as Bellamy switches to guitar, the song is given a tremendously powerful performance with a stunning guitar solo. The song which concudes with the heavy Headup riff from the Deftones song, is a definite highlight of this release.
The second song from the new album featured here (the title track having been omitted from the broadcast) is United States Of Eurasia, which Bellamy states is “from an imaginary musical about a ‘United States of Eurasia,’ the search for peace and the accidental creation of a new superpower challenging American primacy.” The song is as grand as the vision. It opens with a piano part at first sinister and then beautiful, and Bellamy’s vocals during the slow, restrained beginning are again most effective.
As it unfolds, however, some epic guitar chords and vocal harmonies explode. It is at this point that comparisons have been drawn with Queen. “I guess people have thought it sounds a bit like Queen, particularly that big chord and the big harmonies,” says drummer Dominic Howard, who goes on to state that, “when we did that in the studio we laughed a lot because it was so uplifting. It’s a real chest out, hand in the air moment in the song.” Bellamy is more specific, stating in his interview with Lewis that, “the bit where the vocal harmonies kick in…is a nod to Queen. I can’t really deny that!” According to Lewis himself, “it sounds like Queen’s maddest moments crammed into a single song.” (Queen guitarist Brian May echoed this sentiment, stating that, “I like the way they let their madness show through.”)
On this live version, however, the effect is less exalted; to maintain the Queen connotations, it sounds a little less regal and majestic, and consequently a little less like Queen. This, I think, is not due to the quality of the performance at the Admiralspalast, but simply the result of the difficulty of reproducing the impact of this part of the song outside of the studio. This performance also lacks the second part of the number, entitled Collateral Damage. After the bombast of the main section, the album version continues with Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9 No.2 (one of three nocturnes written in 1830-32 and published in 1833), augmented by strings and other noises, culminating in what various commentators have described as a spaceship, an Exocet missile and a jet fighter. It is a bizarre but startlingly effective juxtaposition and I missed it here.
The next number, Starlight, the second single from Black Holes And Revelations, is described by bassist Chris Wolstenholme as, “a love song about missing someone, friends, family, someone you love.” This melodic, somewhat more lightly textured song, which was the second single from Black Holes And Revelations, acts as a pleasing contrast to the bombast and “power grunge” found elsewhere in the performance.
The third featured song from Resistance is Undisclosed Desires, which later became the second single from the album. Bellamy states that, “it’s actually quite a personal song about me and my girlfriend.” Musically, according to Bellamy, the song, “really take[s] an influence from contemporary R&B, particularly Timbaland – heavy beats, syncopations, very melodic, rhythmic vocals.” He has also cited it as the first Muse song on which he does not play guitar or piano, although he utilizes a keytar for live performances. As New Musical Express points out, “the song is built around electronic drum patterns and some slap bass, and Q refers to its “minimal and dance-y feel.” After the wordless synthesized vocals, the main part of the song receives a fine, understated performance.
The next number, from the album Absolution, is my favourite Muse song, Time Is Running Out, the meaning of which has been the subject of much speculation. According to Bellamy, “it’s just about feeling that the last moments of your life are running out and…it’s more about the emotion itself; being suffocated, feeling that your last chance is being taken away from you by something that’s outside of your own power, and you can apply that to society, a relationship, your religion or whatever.” Here we get a powerful, crowd-pleasing performance, with a certain synthesized edge to Bellamy’s vocal.
The final song from the new album is Unnatural Selection, a powerful guitar rocker which has more in common with earlier material than other songs from Resistance. Citing the rather incongrous pairing of Abba and Rush as influences on the band (in addition to Queen), Thompson characterizes the song as a “thrash metal re-write of Lay All Your Love On Me.” After the brief, quiet introduction, the song proceeds at a fast lick until the slow instrumental section, which is very effective. Again, after the slow vocal part which immediately follows the instrumental section the song takes flight again, careeing hectically to its end. For some reason, Bellamy’s brief spoken introduction to the song is repeated, though whether this minor flaw lies with the radio broadcast or with Godfather’s mastering for CD, I cannot say.
Then we hear the familiar opening guitar riff of the first encore number, Plug In Baby, from Origin Of Symmetry, voted by Total Guitar readers in 2004 as the 13th best riff of all time. Another energetic performance leads us to the last song of the show, the closing number from Black Holes And Revelations, Knights Of Cydonia, described by Bellamy as “a heavy rock epic…with…a film soundtrack element to it.” The song itself is prefaced with an excerpt from Ennio Morricone’s Man With A Harmonica, from the Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time In The West, with Wolstenholme playing the harmonica. The guitar sound was apparently inspired by The Tornados’ 1962 hit Telstar, perhaps unsurprising when you realise that Bellamy’s father George was that band’s rhythm guitarist. This version, prominently featuring Bellamy’s falsetto vocals, gallops along with unrestrained intensity and ends with a grindingly dissonant climax borrowed from Space Dementia.
The three bonus tracks come from the band’s performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. This awards ceremony was unusual in that it included, as reported by the official Muse website, “performances from artists in various venues all across Manhattan.” The band were the only artists performing at the Walter Kerr Center, the site also saying that, “the band have a special venue all to themselves.” The MTV website states that only Upising was included in the television broadcast of the awards.
Two of the songs, Uprising and United States Of Eurasia, are further versions of numbers included from the Admiralspalast, and the performances are essentially similar. However, between them we also get a vivacious rendition of the title track of the new album, Resistance, which has the audience clapping along to the melliflouous keyboard part.
This release derives from the Radio Fritz broadcast, and the high quality of sound that one would expect from such a source adds to the enjoyment of this disc. The bonus tracka also have fine sound. There is the usual tri-fold sleeve with artwork based on that from The Resistance which also features photographs of the band both on and off stage. The packaging is most attractive though the documentation is minimal, with no sleeve notes or booklet. This is a very worthy release both in terms of performance and sound and, as it also contains early outings for songs from the new album, it constitutes a most desirable item for Muse fans.