The Phoenix 1999-08 – Making the scene with Muse

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This transcription may be inaccurate as we have not seen an original copy.

Making the scene with Muse

Rapport of The New York City club debut of Muse.

8:30 p.m. I arrive at Brownies for the New York City club debut of Muse. They're a hot young British trio freshly signed to Madonna's imprint Maverick for some exorbitantly large sum or other. The line of hype goes something like this: they're 20-year-olds, they know 80 songs, and they sound like Radiohead. This particular show is a "showcase" (though members of the public are being admitted, they wouldn't really know to show up, since the debut album doesn't come out until September), which means that the guest list goes on for pages more than could possibly fit into the little Avenue A club itself. Up on stage, a burly roadie is tuning a guitar attached to the most expensive-looking piece of footgear I think I've ever seen, less a pedal than a cockpit. The guitar itself is held together with duct tape. This strikes me as a little too cute.

8:37 p.m. The crowd is pretty much all record-industry weasels people I never see at any club this size unless there's a showcase going on. A table is being reserved for MTV staffers. I wander over and ask them what the deal with Muse is. They blink politely. "There's been a lot of comparisons with Radiohead," one of them offers.

8:42 p.m. The young women at another reserved table are rolling open a homemade banner that says "TEIGNMOUTH" it turns out that that's the little town on the south Devon coast from which both they and Muse hail. Bassist Chris Wolsten Holme [sic] is the father of a newborn, one of them informs me. But wow, he's 20, isn't he? Oh, no, she says, he couldn't be, he went to school with my brother, and my brother's 28, so he couldn't be less than, oh, 26.

8:45 p.m. Our math exercises are interrupted by Muse, who pick up their instruments and tear into their British single "Uno" (it peaked at #73 there), which sounds a lot like the loud parts of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" set to a cha-cha-cha beat. Pretty hot, actually.

8:46 p.m. Singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy opens his mouth for the first time, and whoa. The guy is Thom Yorke, the half-horrified vibrato, the distracted way he pulls against the beat, the voiced breathing-in sounds, the falsetto that hovers in the air like a cloud of poison gas. For the next 40 minutes, nothing suggests otherwise. His guitar playing has more than a little Jonny Greenwood in it as well. More than a lot, actually. (Bellamy, in a Melody Maker article in June, confronted with the R. Band Question: "Well, we obviously can't deny it totally. There is a similarity there, but we're much more than just a fill-in until their next album comes out." Note that his tone says more than his response.)

8:55 p.m. They're sounding better, and much louder, than most bands that play this space, just in terms of clarity and volume, the difference is that they've brought their own soundman along (he heaps reverb onto the chorus of "Cave"). The gray, balding guys in the front few rows are nodding their heads, or (in the case of the better-dressed ones) simply looking contemplative and approving.

9:06 p.m. Muse are playing "Muscle Museum," a really good song with the pulse of old reggae, the minor chords of flamenco, and the beat of straight-ahead rock. Although I've been watching Bellamy's fingers for most of the show, this guitar solo is the first thing I've heard that appears to have nothing to do with what he's playing. Then I notice it's not a guitar solo, he's just making his own voice quaver and growl like a second guitar. I am pretty intensely impressed.

9:11 p.m. "Teignmouth," the guy behind me mutters to his friend. "That's a country?" 9:25 p.m. Muse polish off "Showbiz," the title track from their forthcoming album, and they're off. There's no encore: the point of this show is to generate professional enthusiasm, not to gratify and be gratified by fans. And delighted as I am by their craft -- Bellamy's voice is just stunning -- the thrill is already starting to wear off, mostly because it's so completely and shamelessly derivative of a single source.

11:45 p.m. Back home, I do a quick check on the Web for Muse; it appears there are albums in print by two other bands of that name. Maybe they'll have to call themselves something like Muse UK, which is both fitting and redundant. Meanwhile, I'm listening to OK Computer again, just for reference, and I'm amazed at how different it sounds from the way I remembered it hours ago, how subtle and nonintuitive, how delicate and frightened. And there's Thom Yorke, taking "Exit Music (For a Film)" down to its closing murmur, his voice burning like ice, staking out his position against the machine that had already welcomed him inside and was learning how to synthesize a souped-up version of his band: "We hope that you choke, that you choke."

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