Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Pilton, UK – 24 June, 2016
Disc 1: [Drill Sergeant]/Psycho, Reapers, Plug In Baby, Dead Inside, Map Of The Problematique/Who Knows Who riff/Maggie’s Farm riff, The 2nd Law: Isolated System, The Handler, Supermassive Black Hole, Starlight, Munich Jam
Disc 2: Madness, [JFK]/Interlude/Hysteria/Heartbreaker riff/Back In Black outro, Time Is Running Out, Stockholm Syndrome/Township Rebellion riff/Execution Commentary riff/Endless Nameless riff, The Globalist, Drones, Uprising (extended), Mercy, Man With A Harmonica/Knights Of Cydonia
“Muse’s headlining set on the Pyramid stage,” writes Guardian reviewer Alex Petridis, “opens with a Big Brotherish figure shouting menacingly at the audience from the screens at either side of the stage. But it’s not always as subtle and nuanced as that. They are a band for whom everything is, metaphorically speaking, turned up to 11.” This is a reference to [Drill Sergeant] from Muse’s current album, Drones. Drawn from Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket, the lines are spoken by actors, as the band were unable to get permission to use a sample from the film. This leads into what New Musical Express reviewer Mark Beaumont calls the “strident crunch” of Psycho, a song described by the MuseWiki website as, “based on distorted bass, fuzzy guitar and fat sounding drums,” and by BBC reviewer Mark Savage as, “a hard driving anti-war song from their current album, Drones – a concept record about modern warfare, and soldiers ‘who kill by remote control.'” The song, based on a riff which has featured in the band’s live set for some time, and which I consider to be the new album’s best number, makes for a very effective set opener.
The next song, Reapers, is also from the new album and is noted by MuseWiki as being heavily influenced by Rage Against The Machine’s Bombtrack and Freedom. “Matt Bellamy is in his guitar god element,” writes Beaumont, “spilling virtuoso solos over a frantic “Reapers.'”
A splendid rendition of the classic Plug In Baby is the first song of the set to engender a significant reaction from the audience. As Independent reviewer Jack Shepherd notes, it was, “the first song that sets the crowd alight (quite literally). Flares are lit, fireworks set off, and mass singalong engaged.”
Then it is back to Drones material for the album’s opening number Dead Inside, a song which MuseWiki notes is influenced by Depeche Mode and Prince. “This is where the story of the album begins,” Matt Bellamy has revealed, “where the protagonist loses hope and becomes ‘Dead Inside,’ therefore vulnerable to the dark forces introduced in ‘Psycho’ and which ensue over the next few songs on the album, before eventually defecting, revolting and overcoming these dark forces later in the story.”
A fine performance of Map Of The Problematique from Black Holes And Revelations, concludes with the Who Knows Who riff (a staple outro for Map of the Problematique during the Black Holes And Revelations Tour and The Resistance Tour but dropped during theThe 2nd Law Tour) and the Maggie’s Farm riff, the former taken from a song Muse recorded with The Streets in 2008 and sounding very similar to Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker and the latter, of course, drawn from the Bob Dylan song.
Then comes The 2nd Law: Isolated System, with, as MuseWiki puts it, “Exorcist piano pulses tinkling goodbye to the globe.” “It’s the noise of humanity on a tiny planet in the middle of nothing,” says Bellamy. “Hanging around space would be so peaceful and quiet and suddenly you come to this little blip that’s fucking chaos! I see it as drifting away from the planet and going into the peacefulness of what actually is gonna happen at the end of it all, which is nothingness.” This slow, quiet number, which includes no vocals as such (though there are recorded spoken voices) makes for a surprisingly effective highlight in an outdoor festival performance in front of a large crowd.
Then it is back to Drones for The Handler. According to Bellamy handlers are those agents who try to control people, and the song references Cathy O’Brien’s Trance Formation of America, a book about CIA experiments in brainwashing from the 1940s to the 1970s. MuswWiki notes that, “it is a dramatic song with falsetto vocals, heavy octave/arpeggio riffage and an intense middle section.”
Then we are treated to what Telegraph reviewer Neil McCormick calls, “a slick, sexy performance of Supermassive Black Hole,” the opening of which draws roars of delight from the audience. This is followed by a splendid rendition of Starlight which has the audience singing along.
Disc one concludes with the Munich Jam, so called as it was first played at the Rockavaria Festival in that city in 2015. Shepherd refers to it as, “a jaw dropping instrumental from drummer Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme,” and the equally-impressed McCormick note that the pair, “offered up a techno-influenced drum and bass solo to show they could make a monumental noise without their band leader.”
The second disc opens with Madness from The 2nd Law, with its theme of feeling remorse after, as Bellamy puts it, “you’ve had a fight with your girlfriend…”and you’re on your own going: ‘What did I say?'” Musewiki calls the song, “a calm, minimal electronic cross between ‘I Want To Break Free’ and ‘Faith’ [a comparison also made by NME] with arrangements similar to Depeche Mode.” Shepherd considers it one of the set’s “less engaging” numbers.
The show’s second instance of recorded speech is [JFK], based on a speech by John F. Kennedy, which acts as the introduction to the song Defector on Drones. Here, though, it is followed by Interlude (based on Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings), which itself acts, as it has done since the Resistance Tour of 2009, as an introduction to Hysteria, which concludes with the Heartbreaker riff and Back In Black outro, drawn, of course, from the Led Zeppelin and AC/DC numbers. The excellent performance of Hysteria is unfortunately marred by what would seem to be a brief microphone failure at the start.
Next comes a crowd-pleasing rendition of my own favourite Muse song, Time Is Running Out and the excitement continues with Stockholm Syndrome. The latter song concludes with the Township Rebellion riff (drawn from the Rage Against The Machine song), the Execution Commentary riff (recorded in 1996 as an outro to Crazy Days on the Newton Abbot demo and often performed live as an instrumental outro to either Showbiz or Stockholm Syndrome) and the Endless nameless riff (drawn from the Nirvana number).
After these crunching riffs it is back to Drones once again for The Globalist, described by McCormick as an, “apocalyptic ballad,” and by Rolling Stone reviewer David Fricke as, “a grand hymn of despair with a hot jam in the center.” Originally titled The British Empire, at over ten minutes it is the band’s longest recorded song. In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Bellamy revealed that the song is the sequel to Citizen Erased from the Origin Of Symmetry album, though the songs are “opposites.” Musewiki states that, “Matt describes the song as being a ten-minute prog-rock nightmare dealing with the rise and fall of a dictator and is its own self-contained narrative.” The beginning of the song, with its prominent whistling, references Ennio Morricone’s L’arena from the soundtrack to Il Mercenario. Musewiki notes that various sections of the song bear similarities to Citizen Erased, the Helsinki Jam and Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila, an aria previously utilized by the band for I Belong To You. Use is also clearly made of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Such diverse influences make, in my opinion, for an overall lack of coherence. This leads into the a capella title song and closing track from Drones, a rearrangement, with lyrics by Bellamy, of the Sanctus and Benedictus from the Missa Papae Marcelli by sixteenth-century Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. This is simply a play-through of the album track, the band having left the stage.
The encore begins with a thumping performance of Uprising. Then comes the set’s final song from the Drones, Mercy, one of the album’s less effective numbers, which MuseWiki considers has some similarities to Starlight and Stockholm Syndrome. Chris Wolstenholme’s “haunting harmonica,” in Shepherd’s words, is utilized for Ennio Morricone’s Man With A Harmonica, which acts as an atmospheric introduction to Knights of Cydonia, which the band tears through in fine style to bring to a close what Beaumont calls a “sensational set.”
Savage was also impressed, stating that:
“Muse have closed the first night of Glastonbury with a blazing, bombastic set.
They wisely mixed classics like Plug In Baby and Supermassive Black Hole with new material, displaying the confident assurance of a band headlining the festival for the third time.
…everything that makes Muse faintly ridiculous on record works to their benefit in front of such a vast audience.
From start to end…the skyscraping scale of their songs kept the crowd entertained and on their feet.”
“Muse’s fantastic full tilt performance made sure that this strange day ended on a blazing high note for everyone, another reminder that live music at it’s [sic] best can be a particularly stirring demonstration of the power of community and togetherness.”
Shepherd, who is not quite so impressed, argues that the set had its ups and downs, noting that the audience reacted better to old favourites and concluding that, “it may have been a by-the-books performance, but it’s one that is still stunning.”
Petridis’ view is also rather more measured:
“At their least appealing, you’re struck by the creeping fear that all the stuff in the lyrics and on the screens about the New World Order and survivialism might not be entirely tongue-in-cheek…But there are other moments when it seems both knowingly preposterous and preposterously entertaining, the work of a band who’ve clearly been playing to audiences this huge for years, and have come to the conclusion that more is more.”
The BBC broadcast of the performance provides the sound for this release, with the quality of sound one would expect form such a source. The discs are housed in a slimline double jewel case. The foldover front insert and the rear insert display photos of the band, including several onstage shots from the show, together with promotional material for the festival. The two discs show a view of the audience and some audience members draped in EU flags, referencing the fact that the show was played on the day after the UK’s referendum on EU membership (hence McCormick’s description of it as a “strange day”). The rear insert states that Glastonbury 2016 is a limited edition of three hundred copies. While I prefer both of the band’s previous Glastonbury appearances to this one (due in large measure to the amount of material from Drones, which is not the band’s best album), it is, nonetheless, a fine performance.
If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)