Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Muse, San Francisco Design Center Concourse, 18-July-2006

During the boom years in the Bay Area the big software companies competed to see who could have the biggest Christmas Holiday party. Each year the parties got bigger and bigger. The high point was when Sybase hired Chris Isaak to play at their party at the San Francisco Design Center. I was there and it was a lot of fun. So when I noticed that Muse were playing at the San Francisco Design Center I assumed it was going to be a similarly intimate show. Actually the gig was in the Concourse at San Francisco Design Center which is a different area, it is 125,000 square feet of converted railway station. Furthermore it is shaped like a railway station, long and thin.

San Francisco has some fantastic small (Bottom of the Hill, capacity 300) and medium sized venues (Fillmore, capacity 1,200), but it lacks a larger venue. It looks to me as if the Concourse must hold 5,000 or so, standing (it looks as big as Brixton Academy). The sound isn’t great. The long thin shape is not ideal and it makes it harder to get near the front. As a result I was further away from the stage than I like to be. This did however enable me to enjoy the light show.

Yes, Muse are a big band that has a light show. Why is that bad exactly? Well at the very least it usually means that the band is too far away. Unfortunately Muse also seem to use it to tell you when the really exciting guitar solos are so that you know when to jump up and down. At these points blinding lights are turned on the crowd, who oblige by jumping up and down. Some of the audience made devil horns in an apparently unironic way. The audience is young, mostly White or Asian, and they all have nice teeth.

Muse are a strange band. They are a three piece, though they are now joined on stage by a fourth assistant, although he is at the back and wearing black so you can’t see him. However there is something funny about their live sound. It seemed to me that a lot of the synthesizer parts were pre-recorded (or triggered automatically). And the bass parts were either not being played by the bassist (they sounded synthesized) or are just doubled by the bassist.

The star of the show is Matthew Bellamy who plays guitar and keyboards and sings. I think he fancies he is Freddie Mercury (at one point he plays a conspicuous white piano) but his love of Rachmaninoff makes him seem more like Rick Wakeman to me. The band’s CD covers are by Storm Thorgerson but that doesn’t make them Pink Floyd either.

So did I have a miserable time? Really, Muse are not that unpleasant. They do make a great noise. Some of their songs are memorable. And Matthew Bellamy is entertaining to watch.

My general irritation was compounded by my BART trip home which somehow took 55 minutes to go four stops.

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