Tear Down The Walls (Godfather Records GR 545/546)
Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Pilton, UK – 26 June, 2010
Disc 1: Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole, New Born, Map of the Problematique, Guiding Light, Citizen Erased, Nishe[/United States Of Eurasia], Feeling Good, Undisclosed Desires, Resistance, Hysteria, Time is Running Out, Starlight, Stockholm Syndrome
Disc 2: Where The Streets Have No Name, Plug in Baby, Man With A Harmonica/Knights of Cydonia.
Bonus Tracks: Rock Am Ring Festival, Nurburgring, Nurburg, Germany – 5 June, 2010: Uprising, Unnatural Selection, [Nishe/]United States Of Eurasia, Bliss, Time Is Running Out, Starlight, Stockholm Syndrome, Man With A Harmonica/Knights of Cydonia; Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy – 8 June, 2010: Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever), Back In Black
One of my all-time favourite live music DVDs is Plugged In (Roach) which contains Muse’s complete Glastonbury performance of 27 June 2004 (with three bonus tracks from the T In The Park show from the next month thrown in for good measure). Holding this performance in such high regard, I naturally awaited the band’s return to the Pyramid Stage in 2010 with no little anticipation, and Godfather have done Muse afficionados a great service by releasing the more recent Glastonbury show on these two CDs.
Muse headlined the second day of the festival, in a line-up also featuring Scissor Sisters (with a guest appearance by Kylie Minogue), Shakira, The Dead Weather, Seasick Steve, Jackson Browne, The Lightning Seeds and Tinchy Stryder. Several commentators remark on the band’s (decidedly relative) lack of visuals. As Alex Petridis writes on the website of The Guardian newspaper:
“Muse fail to arrive onstage in the giant UFO they keep threatening to bring to festivals, but they nevertheless have instruments that light up when the band touch them, huge plumes of smoke that billow forth during Knights of Cydonia, a host of high-definition visuals and a guest appearance from U2’s The Edge, who plays guitar on a cover of Where the Streets Have No Name. By their standards, this makes it a relatively restrained visual performance, but the music compensates: huge, florid pop-rock, ripe with heavy metal and prog influences, the lyrics thick with conspiracy-theory jargon. It’s simultaneously hysterical and hugely enjoyable.”
Similarly, Mark Beaumont, also on the Guardian site, states that, “though Muse fail to arrive in the massive inflatable UFO they’ve been promising to sneak past every festival health and safety official since V2208, they still prove themselves a formidable celestial invasion…Instead, the Devon three-piece focus on their music’s sheer rock wallop…Muse’s set is a ballsy, no-frills trawl through 21st-century rock’s most powerful canon.” Clearly, the lessening of the visual impact did not affect the quality of the musical performance. As the writer on the inthenews website concludes, “Muse underlined their reputation as one of the best live bands in the world. The Devon trio’s Pyramid Stage performance largely eschewed their typical light and sound extravaganza in favour of stadium rock riffs and undeniable momemtum.”
The starting point for this momentum is a thunderous, crowd-pleasing performance of Uprising, which is met with huge cheers from an audience which sings lustily during appropriate part of the song itself. The conclusion of this song, which is described by Beaumont as, “essentially what the Dr Who theme tune would sound like if Slade had written it in 1973,” is greeted with huge cheers, and rightly so. The band’s official website, and the Musewiki site describe the song as “Uprising (extended),” though the version here is only around twenty seconds longer than the album version. Excitement is maintained with a fine performance of Supermassive Black Hole, its grinding opening riff giving way to Matt Bellamy’s falsetto vocals. Augmented by smooth backing vocals, the song manages to be simultaneously heavy and sinuous. There is also a brief burst of electronic dissonance courtesy of the Kaoss Pad on Bellamy’s Manson Kaoss guitar. The audience responds with enthusiasm to the delicate, chiming opening of New Born (courtesy of Morgan Nicholls’ keyboards) but it is when the main section of the song begins that the quality of this performance in underlined. As Beaumont writes, “It’s when Bellamy raises his arm and ushers in the molten-rock riff of New Born that the pace is set at volcanic.” The song features a striking solo by Bellamy on his Manson Red Glitter guitar. As a coda to New Born, we are treated to the tremendously heavy School riff, taken from the Nirvana song. This was first played as an introduction to Stockholm Syndrome at the Big Day Out in Perth, Australia, on 31 January 2010, and, unsurprisingly, followed the same song at the show in Nirvana’s spiritual home of Seattle 2 April. Overall, these first three numbers provide a stunning opening to the set. The writer on the website of Q magazine refers to them, “hitting like a triple whammy of heavy artillery.”
After this the melodic Map Of The Problematique represents a little bit of a cooling off, though it too, after a short dissonant climax, features a heavy coda in the form of the Who Knows Who riff. This song was a collaborative effort with The Streets in 2003, and was, as the band stated, “not intended to be a serious release.” Nonetheless, after being unofficially leaked, it eventually ended up as the B-side to the vinyl incarnation of the Uprising single. It is described on the Musewiki website as, “a ‘blues riff’ similar to that of Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker.” Indeed, it is rather more than merely similar, as the same website confesses elsewhere, describing it as “a slightly modified version” of the Heartbreaker riff. This is followed by a gorgeous rendition of Guiding Light, a song which, in contrast to its otherwise rather gentle nature, boasts a powerful drum part from Dominic Howard which, especially at the start, bears a remarkable resemblance to the Ultravox song Vienna. Howard’s drumming is also a prominent feature of the fine version of Citizen Erased, the alternating heavy and quiet sections of which effectively convey the feeling of gentle paranoia inherent in the lyrics and in Bellamy’s explanation of what the song is about: “It’s an expression of what it feels like to be questioned. I spend more time than most people being asked about purpose, and it’s a strange feeling. I don’t really have the answers and I have to respond on the knowledge I have obtained so far, but the problem is that it gets printed, and something else has come along that’s made you completely disagree with what you said”.
Next we have the brief Nishe, which the Musewiki website describes as, “a mellow, instrumental B side that has been played regularly live. The bass-line bears some similarity to the lead guitar part of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bullet in the Head.'” This serves as an effective introduction to the quiet opening of United States Of Eurasia, which, of course, later erupts into what Beaumont rather dismissively calls a “Queen-aping epic.” Here, more than anywhere else in the set, Muse live up to Glastonbury organizer Michael Eavis’ description of the band as, “the next in line to Queen’s throne.” This song finds Bellamy seated at a keyboard for the first time, playing his Kawai MP-8 digital piano, which, since the May 2007 gig at the Rockhal in Luxembourg, has been mounted in a grand piano shell with a transparent lid which reflects the lights emanating from within. As with the Admiralspalast performance previously released by Godfather (Rise Up, already reviewed), the Collatoral Damage section of the song, essentially a performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9 No.2 , is omitted. Surprisingly, the song’s presence here seems to have eluded Godfather, as it is omitted from the track listing.
Bellamy remains at the keyboard for the next song, Feeling Good. Taken from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s 1964 musical The Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd, this song is probably best known in the recording by Nina Simone. The website of the British music paper New Musical Express refers to the song as a “traditional cover,” and, indeed, Muse were performing the song as long ago as 1999. It was also included on their second album. The Musewiki website suggests that its presence as a Muse staple is due to it being a favourite of both Bellamy’s girlfriend and his mother and also cites the importance of Simone’s version, stating, “Simone’s cover of Feeling Good was copied by Muse on Origin Of Symmetry.” (Oddly, this is the second time I have reviewed a release where a song from this musical, in a version influenced by Nina Simone, has made an appearance – see my review of Tarantura’s Yes release The Shining: The Word Is Love II.) Muse’s version is to a great extent true to the spirit of Simone’s, though she might have been surprised by the megaphone utilized for the vocals during the third verse and by Dominic Howard’s muscular drumming. The Nina Simone connection was strengthened when the Muse studio version was used without permission in a television advertisement for Nescafe coffee. This resulted in £500,000 damages being paid to the band (which they donated to the charity Oxfam) and its replacement in the advert by Simone’s version. (Incidentally, the magaphone vocal section caused controversy during a Spanish television/radio broadcast. Affronted when instructed prior to the performance not to swear, Bellamy ducked down behind his keyboard and sang, “fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking hell! Fucking, fucking little, fucking, fucking fuckers, yeah!” before popping back up into view!)
Then we hear the slow, dreamy opening of Undisclosed Desires. This dark, sinuous number, which Musewiki likens to Depeche Mode, sees Bellamy utilizing his Manson Keytarcaster and Chris Wolstenholme playing slap bass on his Status The KingBass Mk-II. This performance effectively conveys Bellamy’s statement that the song is “about love and the dark secrets lovers share.” The next song, Resistance, is prefaced by Remo Giazotto’s Adagio In G Minor. He composed it shortly after World War Two and claimed that it was based on a fragment of a work by Venetian baroque composer Tommaso Albinoni found in the Saxon State Library in Dresden. The manuscript, however, was never produced and it is widely believed that the piece is entirely Giazotto’s work. This piece is very well known, and has been used many times in films and television programmes (from Peter Weir’s Gallopoli to Monty Python’s Flying Circus), as well as by numerous musical artists such as Renaissance, The Doors and Yngwie Malmsteen. The version played here by Bellamy on his Manson Doubleneck bears only a vague resemblance to the original. Indeed, Beaumont contends that it “sounds like an alien ambulance.” An tremendous rendition of Resistance itself, then ensues. “Paranoia has rarely sounded so powerful,” concludes Beaumont.
Bellamy then plays the brief, guitar-based Interlude, before Wolstenholme’s thunderous bass ushers in an energetic rendition of Hysteria, which concludes with the Back In Black outro. This is based on the title song of the first album made by AC/DC after the death of vocalist Bon Scott, which made its first appearance in partial form at The Den in Muse’s home town of Teignmouth on 5th September 2009 and its debut in full form at the Sydney Big Day Out, with Nic Cester of Australian band Jet on vocals, on 22nd January 2010.
The Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun (which the audience effectively turns from an instrumental into a vocal number) serves as an introduction to a crowd-pleasing rendition of Time Is Running Out. The audience sings along for much of the song, which ends with another brief, heavy riff drawn from Jimi Hendrix’s Power Of Soul (from the posthumous release South Saturn Delta). Following a fine version of the lighter, melodious Starlight, the main set ends with an immensely powerful performance of Stockholm Syndrome, accurately described on the Q website as “savage.” The song itself is followed by two crunching riffs derived from Rage Against The Machine’s Township Rebellion and Nirvana’s Endless nameless, which constitute a thunderous conclusion. Appropriately, disc one is also brought to a close here.
Disc two opens with the first encore song, U2’s Where The Streets have No Name. With U2 due to headline the first day of the festival, Bellamy commented to NME Radio that, “we’re hoping to do a something a little unusual there. A little collaboration with someone, maybe get Bono to come and sing a song.” As is well known a back ailment kept Bono, and therefore U2, from appearing. However, Muse were joined by U2 guitarist The Edge and he contributes guitar and some vocals to Where The Streets Have No Name. Bellamy reappears clutching his Manson 007, but plays it sparingly, concentrating on the vocals and leaving most of the guitar input to The Edge, helping to create a version which sounds as much like U2 as you would expect from Muse.
After this, cheers and quite a few screams greet a hugely enjoyable performance of Plug In Baby, which Beaumont hails as, “arguably the best rock song of the century so far.” The show then concludes with Knights Of Cydonia, prefaced, as has become the custom, by Chris Wolstenholme’s atmospheric rendition of Ennio Morricones’ Man With A Harmonica from Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon A Time In The West. This is followed by a frenetic gallop through Knights Of Cydonia itself, a song which Beaumont reckons, along with Hysteria and Stockholm Syndrome, is one of “the most melodic metal songs ever written.” It makes for a tremendous conclusion to a stunning show.
Reviewers have commented on the effective combination of material played at Glastonbury. The writer on the inthenews site states that, “Muse let the material do the talking with newer cuts like Guiding Light and the unashamedly Queen-esque United States of Eurasia meshing well with fan favourites from Supermassive Black Hole to Hysteria.” Similarly, the MTV website states that, “their epic 18-song set was a cosmic mixture of hits, tracks from The Resistance (their latest album), and their high-drama rendition of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.” Beaumont, however, is a dissenter here. Rueing the replacement in the set of the superior Butterflies & Hurricanes by United States Of Eurasia, he also contends that, compared to numbers such as Stockholm Syndrome, Knights Of Cydonia and Resistance, “some of the poppier new material – Undisclosed Desires, Guiding Light – seem lightweight and insubstantial.” While there is something in what he says, it surely cannot be expected that every song, even in the best of shows, can be a highlight. As I alluded to above, Map Of The Problematique does not have the same visceral impact as the opening three numbers; this does not make it a bad song.
The show clearly pleased both audience and reviewers. The NME website refers to the band, “bringing the second day to an epic finish…[with]…their special brand of bombast.” The Q website states that the performance was, “a two-hour masterclass from a band who play to mega-crowds like it’s their birthright.” The website of the Metro paper maintains that, “Muse delighted a huge audience,” and states that their performance, “looks set to be remembered as the highlight of Glastonbury 2010.” More succintly, the inthenews site concluded, “that’s how you do a headline show.” Bellamy comes in for particular praise. The Independent website claims that the band’s “energetic and anthem-packed set had the audience eating out of Matt Bellamy’s hand.” Lucy Jones, writing on the website of The Telegraph, states that, the performance proved why “Stadium” is the band’s middle name…it was a joy to watch…Matt Bellamy put his heart, soul, blood and guts into his performance…the size, noise, drama and setting of the Muse gig was [sic] electrifying.” Numerous non-Muse fans seem to have been won over. “Indeed, the admiration for Muse’s stature on the live stage was clear,” states the inthenews writer, “with a large swathe of festivalgoers stressing they normally wouldn’t buy a Muse record before gushing about the quality of the headline set.” More simply, Beaumont writes of “one young convert” confiding that, “that was the best gig of my life.”
As if that were not enough, Godfather fills out the remainder of disc two with bonus tracks from two concerts earlier in the same month. First come eight songs from the Rock Am Ring performance of 5 June. The Rock Am Ring Festival is held as a joint venture with the Rock Am Park Festival held at the Zeppelinfeld, Nuremberg and the vast majority of bands play one night at each venue. Muse’s co-headliners were Kiss, Rammstein and Rage Against The Machine, and the numerous other acts ranged from Motorhead to Ellie Goulding! As one might expect from another festival performance played in the same month, the Rock am Ring performances are broadly similar to those from Glastonbury and there are several specific points of comparison. For example, Uprising is also “extended,” Nishe (which is omitted from the tracklisting) precedes United States Of Eurasia (which again lacks the Collateral Damage section) and Man With A Harmonica introduces Knights Of Cydonia. There are also some differences, such as the omission of House Of The Rising Sun as a prelude to Time Is Running Out and the use of a different Rage Against The Machine-derived riff (War Within A Breath rather thanTownship Rebellion) at the conclusion of Stockholm Syndrome, though the Endlesss Nameless riff is retained.
There are also two bonus tracks from Nurburg not featured at Glastonbury. Morgan Nicholl’s restrained keyboards open Unnatural Selection, before the band launches into a frenetic performance of the main section of the song, which ultimately ends in a slow but intense coda. There is also an extended version of Bliss, which features some falsetto vocals from Bellamy during an energetic crowd-plasing performance. The highlights of these bonus tracks are a tremendously enthusiastic Time Is Running Out, which ends with a brief riff, a scorching Stockholm Syndrome, played during the encore and (especially considering the crushingly brutal concluding riffs) as fully deserving of the epithet “savage” as the Glastonbury version, and a superb, high-energy Knights Of Cydonia, which closes the show. In an interview on German television channel Eins Plus, Bellamy confessed to being nervous at playing “such a hard rock festival,” asking himself, “are we heavy enough?” Judging by these performances, he was worrying needlessly.
Three days after Rock Am Ring Muse played in Milan and this release concludes with two tracks from this show. The first is the non-album song Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever). Written after the release of The Resistance, the song was recorded in California in April 2010. It can be found on the original soundtrack CD of the film The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third in the series of vampire films based on Stephanie Meyer’s novels, although it was not written specifically for the film. The slow vocal and keyboard opening promises to develop into another Queen-inspired epic, but instead the fast section turns out to be comparatively light and rather poppy. Disc two then ends with a full performance of AC/DC’s Back In Black, featuring Nic Cester. Many Muse collectors will doubtless welcome the presence of a non-orginal song featuring a guest artist, though I confess I find the song rather lacking in melodic invention compared with Muse’s own output and I did not enjoy Cester’s squawking vocals. Consequently, I found it a rather disappointing conclusion to an otherwise terrific release.
The Glastonbury show was taken from the BBC television broadcast. It has good dynamics with a nice, punchy feel and it is most enjoyable to listen to, especially when played at high volume. Though it inevitably lacks a little of the sharpness one would find in a radio broadcast, it is very impressive indeed for a TV-sourced recording. The bonus tracks from Nuremberg come from German TV and the quality also very fine, though a notch down from the Glastonbury recording. The first two songs were broadcast on Eins Plus and the rest on SWF. The latter broadcast also featured Undisclosed Desires, which is not included here. The final two tracks from Milan are derived from an excellent full, clear audience recording.
This release comes in Godfather’s usual tri-fold sleeve featuring numerous shots of the band onstage at Glastonbury. Several of these, including the one on the front cover, also include The Edge. The packaging also reproduces two covers from New Musical Express: one appears to be a normal issue from around the time of the festival, the other is a “Glastonbury Special.” The sleeve itself looks extremely attractive, though there are no notes or booklet. In addition to the monor track listing errors, there is another small mistake with both shows from which the bonus tracks are derived being dated 5 June. Overall, with very fine sound, a stunning main performance and numerous bonus tracks, this release represents a real treat for Muse fans.