Having proved last summer that their fusion of imaginative rock and up-to-the-minute visual pyrotechnics can light up a sold-out Wembley Stadium, Muse last night reminded everyone that they are equally compelling in the raw as they harnessed the unique surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall to deliver a bravura, twenty-first century answer to the Last Night of the Proms.
The packed crowd bounced along to rousing grooves like Supermassive Black Hole and Time Is Running Out, with frontman Matt Bellamy, rarely a man to keep still himself, providing virtuouso flourishes and whirling showmanship of which Paganini would have been proud. In the more operatic numbers he became leader of the community singing with afficionados from the Muselive fan site in particularly fine voice from the Choir seats behind the stage. Their hero made sure to acknowledge them regularly during solos and jam riffs while the whole auditorium got involved in some now traditional crowd volleyball during Bliss with the customary balloons laden with confetti launched spectacularly over the heads of the audience through the arches of the gallery way up in the Gods, Bellamy despatching the last one himself at the final note with a well-aimed headstock.
Given the division of the audience between hardcore Muse fans and supporters of the Teenage Cancer Trust, under whose banner this last of four assorted concerts had been organised, the set sensibly featured mainsteam crowd-pleasers like Starlight, Feeling Good and Invincible alongside rarely performed fan favourites such as Fury and a track from second album Origin of Symmetry that had excited speculation on message boards ever since the venue was announced. To many, the gap between the end of the main set and the first encore seemed anxiously long, but those of us high on the West wing could see the way being prepared for the night's set-piece as Bellamy jogged up a gangway to the console of the legendary pipe organ, essayed a few preparatory chords and then, to exultant cheers, struck up the introduction to Megalomania.
Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard had taken centre stage in Bellamy's absence, receiving just recognition for their own vital and exemplary contributions to the cinematic Muse soundscape along with keyboardist Morgan Nicholls, who is finally stepping into the foreground from behind the percussion section. In closers Plug In Baby and Knights of Cydonia the ensemble still had a pair of aces to trump even their Phantom of the Opera style coup de grace and the audience departed with the vision still fresh in their minds of Bellamy exultantly assuming the foetal position while playing his effects-laden custom guitar over the back of his head.
The band had been welcomed to the stage by Roger Daltrey of The Who, a long time supporter of the Teenage Cancer Trust, and two survivors of that pernicious illness who offered a joyful reminder of how the night's proceeds would be set to good use. If you would like to make a donation to the charity which builds units in NHS hospitals specifically for teenagers with cancer as well as providing services and facilities that help with all aspects of the unique challenges faced by sufferers and those in remission as they emerge into adulthood, call TCT on 020 7612 0370 or view further details here.
Picture of Matt Bellamy backstage at Live 8 in Paris via Iko's Flickr stream.