SHALI BLOK

Muse Dig Into the Past and Look Towards the Future in Den Haag

At what point does a band make the full transformation into legacy artist or greatest hits machine? Is it the fifth album? The tenth album? Or is it once the band all turn fifty? It’s anyone’s guess, but in Muse‘s case it looks like they’ll never stop going for the other option: keeping things fresh and letting the new music succeed. Last year, the Teignmouth trio released their ninth studio album – Will of the People. The accompanying open air stadium tour sees them go less mad on the stage production, while still pulling out all the stops in all the right moments. Together with an intriguing set by One OK Rock and a by-numbers powerhouse effort from Royal Blood, Matt Bellamy and co. touched down in the low lands for their first ever show in the Hague.

As most diehard Muse fans will tell you, the band have a tendency to play it safe during live shows. Despite nine albums to their name, you’d be able to hazard a pretty good guess at what they’re going to play live: a bunch of new ones, one rarity, some interludes, and the hits. Their first ever appearance in The Hague was no different, tackling 25 tracks across two hours and finishing just as the sun finally set. “Doest it ever get dark here?” asked Bellamy midway to confused laughter from the crowd, not realising that it’s, well, summertime. Opening on the short but feisty Will of the People, Muse didn’t hold back and gave the crowd everything they wanted to hear. An opening salvo of Hysteria, Psycho and Resistance served as a brief hit parade (yes, Resistance just passes as a hit), with 2001 favourite Bliss tonight’s choice for customary rotation track. It’s a shame Muse only have one spot on the set list for a “deep cut”; rotating some of the hits to make room for more older songs or rarities would be a welcome change to the show.

(c) Shali Blok

Last year’s Will of the People marked a return to Muse’s roots, doubling down on the elements which made their rise so special. The album ended up sounding like a greatest hits collection, each song reminiscent of a different Muse era from the last two decades. Won’t Stand Down is perhaps the only song on the album which sounds like Muse looking forwards instead of backwards, fusing Imagine Dragons-esque pop verses with a brazen, almost Slipknot-like collection of downtuned breakdowns. On paper it shouldn’t work, but it’s Muse, so it absolutely works. Compliance serves as a sonic polar opposite to Won’t Stand Down, heading down the synth pop path which Muse have so graciously explored over the years. Its closing chorus was strengthened by confetti and streamers, a staple feature of Muse’s production in recent years. Compliance is a peak Muse-gone-80s anthem, with a chorus that packs more of a punch than every YouTuber-turned-boxer combined. Fellow new track Verona and old favourite Undisclosed Desire (performed at the end of the stage catwalk) helped provide some contrast, however also gave the 50,000-strong crowd a chance to chat to their heart’s content. But hey, the Dutch Disease is a conversation for another day. It also gave live member Dan Lancaster a moment to breathe – credit to him for filling the important role left behind by Morgan Nicholls with vigour and energy.

(c) Shali Blok

Over the years, Muse have always gone all-out in regards to stage production. From pyramids and floatings towers to a power station and larger than life theatrics, there has never been a dull moment onstage. This time round, the band have still pulled out most of the stops theatrically, but you can’t help being a tad disappointed at the lack of an intricately designed stage. Muse have gone for a regular ‘festival stage’ this summer, packing it with masked figures, rotating mirrors, two video interludes, the Devil himself and enough fire to make Health & Safety take notice. It’s a minor qualm (there’s still plenty to be impressed by), but also a sign of how high Muse have raised the bar over the years. There were also a handful of sound issues throughout the night, mainly to do with a lack of volume during the synth-based songs (2012’s Madness was inaudible towards the back until the guitar featured, for example). But once again, minor qualms.

Muse may have relied heavily on the hits in Den Haag (Supermassive Black Hole, Plug in Baby, Uprising and Starlight featured back-to-back), but they still showed us that there are plenty of new cuts which have the potential to become future classics. Two such examples bookended the final part of the show: We Are Fucking Fucked and Kill Or Be Killed. The former is Muse back to basics with gritty alternative rock and pulsating rhythms, whereas the latter is a fire spewing behemoth akin to older tracks Reapers and Stockholm Syndrome. For all their pop sensibilities, Muse still know how to write an eardrum shattering anthem. Both songs are fine examples of the potential Muse has to keep writing classics, without needing to rely on the hits from days gone by. And based on the crowd response in the Hague, it was a success.

The show came to a close before the sun had even fully set, with 2006’s Knights of Cydonia the inevitable curtain call on Matt Bellamy and co.’s first show in the Netherlands’ third city; a city home to the International Criminal Court, a building where plenty of the dubious political entities who have inspired past Muse songs have (or will) ended up. There really isn’t a better song in Muse’s repertoire to finish with than Knights of Cydonia, so we’ll leave it at that. Muse at the Malieveld: a strong showing which, despite playing it safe, never became dull, and managed to avoid veering into “greatest hits only” territory (we’re looking at you, Arctic Monkeys). Whichever direction Matt Bellamy decides to take Muse in next is sure to be unique, intriguing and nowhere near the realms of ‘legacy band’. The future is now, and as far we’re concerned Muse will be at the forefront of it for a while yet.

Muse Setlist Malieveld, The Hague, Netherlands 2023, Will of the People World Tour