With the Simulation Theory tour kicking off in Houston, Texas on February 22nd, Muse fans around the world are gearing up to see new tracks and old favourites. The British band have built quite a reputation for their live shows, bringing not just musicianship and stage presence, but also some pretty mad stuff like giant floating lightbulbs, drones and a 20-foot-high moving robot called Charles.
So here’s a list of some of the best live Muse performances in terms of the sound, the showmanship, and the overall performance. Note: this is not a definitive list and is in no particular order.
Knights of Cydonia – Reading, 2017
It was difficult to pick a particular live version of Knights of Cydonia because one each is as colossal as the last. However, it had to be one preceded by Man With a Harmonica, a chilling cover from Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack, because it effortlessly blends into Muse’s own western without sounding like it was ever a separate piece of music.
Aside from that, I chose this Reading 2017 version because it brought back that sliver of a guitar riff near the end that they hadn’t played in ten years and because the performance as a whole is near-impeccable. Muse has used this track to end nearly every show for about a decade with good reason.
Butterflies and Hurricanes – Wembley, 2007
Butterflies and Hurricanes is one of those tracks (like quite a few in Muse’s catalogue actually) that just sounds way better live. This performance, at Wembley Stadium in 2007 from live album HAARP, is a showcase of Matt Bellamy’s talents vocally, as a guitarist, and especially as a pianist. The piano solo in the middle and the added guitar solo prior to it shows a Bellamy at the absolute peak of his powers. They don’t play this all too often, which is a shame.
Stockholm Syndrome – Glastonbury, 2004
Fresh from the critical acclaim that album #3 (Absolution) received, Muse headlined the UK’s biggest music festival for the first time in 2004. Used as the show’s closer, this explosive version of Stockholm Syndrome features soaring choruses and a powerful ending followed by several riff-filled minutes. This is Muse at their best.
Citizen Erased – Zenith, 2001
Muse’s four-part epic, Citizen Erased is often labelled as one of the best tracks in the band’s catalogue. This version, from their Hullabaloo Soundtrack live album, demonstrates why. In this older performance, Muse’s fresh-faced youth provides the energy and slightly raised tempo that makes this arguably the best version of the seven-minute epic.
Reapers – Cologne, 2015
The newest track on this list, Reapers is a hard rock, Rage Against The Machine influenced romp that translates works perfectly live. This particular version, though in a small venue and without any major theatrics, features incredibly high sound quality, immaculate performances from each band member and one of the most impactful endings in the band’s catalogue.
Animals – Rome, 2013
While it seems to have been axed from setlists since The 2nd Law tour ended, Animals remains one of Muse’s most unique tracks and is possibly a little underrated. This version, from Muse’s Live at Rome 2013 album, is an immaculate representation of the album version but I’ve mainly included it because of the onstage performance featuring a deranged businessman that ties brilliantly into the message of the song. The end also looks a bit like the finale of an episode of The Crystal Maze and that’s a bonus.
Muscle Museum – London Astoria, 2000
The oldest entry on this list, this version of Muscle Museum from debut record, Showbiz, shows a Muse who, even this early in their career, sound as good live as on the album. In a small and intimate venue, this raw performance features a lack of mirrored or glittery guitars, lasers, or pyrotechnics and instead features a very young looking trio owning the stage with sheer musical prowess.
Blackout – Wembley, 2007
Blackout sometimes appears in Muse setlists to break up the heavier songs but that doesn’t mean it’s a filler. This version, from HAARP, demonstrates the serenity and grace that the Absolution track has and is accompanied by some captivating stage (stadium?) directions. Their louder stuff is great but sometimes you want to slow it down, you know?
Undisclosed Desires – Glastonbury, 2010
While this track divides the opinions of Muse fans, this version, with it’s dark synth buildup intro, makes clear the trio’s electronic capabilities with unique style. Smooth, glassy and beguiling, the Glastonbury 2010 version of Undisclosed Desires features a Muse at their stage-mastering best, with slap bass and a keytar. What’s not to love?
Map of the Problematique – Glastonbury, 2010
The intense and atmospheric yet direct and impactful Map of the Problematique was included in Muse setlists for a long time after the release of Black Holes and Revelations. Aside from being a fan favourite, the track makes for an amazing live version, with those sustained vocals in the chorus and the driving rhythm making it a spectacle on-stage. I chose this version because the lighting and effects on this version line up so well with the track. Here, Bellamy sings ‘since I lost you’ in place of ‘since I met you’ in the second chorus. Oof, right in the feels.
Bliss – Reading, 2011
Muse’s Reading 2011 set just had to be in this list, and so did Bliss, so I’ve included them at the same time.
The stage design for the show, which celebrated ten years since the release of Origin of Symmetry, is absolutely sublime, and the performance at Reading as a whole was excellent – made better by the fact that Muse’s extra long set included the entirety of Origin of Symmetry. Along with the other tracks on this list, just go and watch that whole show.
This version of Bliss features a subtle build-up into that lively synth melody, unbridled energy and an extended end section. This is one of those songs that naturally suits being performed live.
And that’s the list. It was difficult narrowing down so many great performances to a manageable number and I have no doubts that I’ve missed some. There isn’t even a Plug-In Baby.