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Muse is still victorious on latest album and tour

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2016

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One-upping itself has become something of a mantra for Muse.

And it's not been easy.

Since its debut, "Showbiz," came out in 1999, five of Muse's seven studio albums have debuted at No. 1 in the U.K., with four hitting the Top 10 on the Billboard 100 -- including "Drones" debuting at No. 1 during June. In addition to vast critical acclaim, Muse has also been nominated for seven Grammy Awards -- winning Best Rock Album for 2009's "The Resistance" -- and two prestigious Mercury Prizes. It's also won an American Music Award as well as multiple Brit Awards, MTV Music Awards and prizes from Britain's NME, Q and Kerrang! magazines.

It's stage shows, meanwhile, have been state-of-the-art spectacles making use of cutting-edge visual effects, such as vaulting Howard and his bandmates -- singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme -- high into the air on hydraulic platforms and encasing them in pyramid-shaped light boards. For the Drones World Tour, Muse is set up in the center of arenas with, appropriately enough, actual drones flying above the audience as the group pounds through length shows that include a generous helping of material from the new album.

"I think since we started we've always been attempting to make the next album or the next tour and the next show even bigger and better than the last one," drummer Dominic Howard says by phone from Los Angeles as Muse began the North American leg of the world tour supporting its latest album, "Drones." "It's kind of proving to be more of a challenge these days because we've done quite a lot to date.

"We've covered a lot of ground."

Howard and his mates do that, literally, in the new show, which the drummer acknowledges "has been a massive challenge, and we certainly feel like we've kind of moved into an area of playing a gig and a show that we've certainly never touched on before It's crazy. It's a completely different playing experience to be right in the middle and spinning around and having people all the way around you. It's nuts."

The 38-year-old Howard is, in fact, spinning on his drum kit "at various speeds," while Bellamy and Wolstenholme work ramps that stretch in various directions from the center. "The audience feels much closer to us, and we feel much closer to the audience -- particularly for me, 'cause I'm normally sitting towards the back of the stage on a riser and the audience is always a certain distance away from me," Howard said. And so far, he's pleased to report, there have not been many Spinal Tap-style mishaps, although the Muse men are certainly braced for those.

"Any band trying to put on a lot of production can often find themselves hitting a few technical problems," Howard noted. "On previous tours we've had curtains that would come down when they're not supposed to and stuff like that. And on this tour we've got quite a lot of flying objects in these choreographed flight paths; I think we've lost a couple along the way, so there's always the potential for things to go wrong."

For Muse, however, the Drones tour has given the group a sense that the "Drones" album has gone right. Co-produced with Robert John "Mutt" Lange of AC/DC, Def Leppard and Shania Twain fame, the set has spawned singles such as "Dead Inside" and "Mercy" and has received another Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. Reviews have been polarized, but "Drones" was a Top 5 album around the world, and fan reaction at the shows is given Howard and company a sense of success.

"It's all been going down really well," the drummer reports. "A lot of these new songs have been received really, really well, like way above our expectations. And it's not just the single; we can tell people have really listened to this album."

There might be more to come from "Drones," too. With its thematic focus -- "It's about this kind of battle with humanity and technology," Howard explains -- "Drones" seems well fit for a life beyond just the music. While the tour is currently booked through mid-June, there's been talk about other applications for the story, including a graphic novel or a film. Howard says nothing has been determined yet, but he won't be surprised if those opportunities arise in the future.

"Those kinds of ideas have crossed our minds, like 'What else can we do with the story?'" he notes. "Right now we're not particularly actively working on any theater or anything just yet. It's creatively a story that could be evolved. It's the most 'narrative'-based thing we've ever done, so I think the production is definitely gonna tell more of this narrative through the way it looks and through key visuals that happen throughout the show.

"There's room for that to become clearer over time. We'll see how it pans out."

Muse and X Ambassadors

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14.

Joe Louis Arena, 19 Steve Yzerman Drive, Detroit.

Tickets are $39.50-$69.50.

Call 313-471-6606 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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