WHAT: MTV Campus Invasion
PERFORMING: Muse and Razorlight
WHERE: Sphere Entertainment Complex
The Sphere has officially arrived, under the watchful eye of new managers Artie Kwitchoff and his Fun Time Presents team.
On Thursday, following last week's successful Sum 41 show inside the same venue, the MTV2 Campus Invasion Tour brought two British buzz bands -- the pseudo-operatic Muse and the Clash/Jam wannabe outfit Razorlight -- to town for a sold-out show before a rabid audience that took its post-Radiohead rock seriously.
Kudos to the new management for the slightly modified sightlines and the incredibly crisp, well-balanced sound mix; the Sphere is now officially the best-sounding rock club in town.
Is it our Fillmore East, and will Kwitchoff and his team be our "Bill Graham Presents?" Well, so much has changed since those halcyon days, and rock is now more business than communal experience. But I have a feeling this is as close as were going to get to the glory days. And that's nothing but a good thing.
That said, it was hard to drum up too much emotion over Thursday's gig, although Muse put on what was essentially a drama-drenched arena-rock show before its adoring fans, replete with outstanding light show and grandiose, over-the-top histrionics that did manage to blend light and shade, but decidedly favored the shade over the light.
There was something self-conscious and studied about the band's performance, however, and it bore a remarkable resemblance to the band's Rochester appearance of a year or so ago.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. But the band was so tight, so professional and so well-oiled -- from the rampant, flawlessly-employed sequencers to the vocals, which were so processed as to cast doubt on their authenticity, despite the fact that guitarist/vocalist Matthew Bellamy was clearly singing in real time -- that they appeared to be going through the well-rehearsed motions before the Sphere crowd.
There was nothing spontaneous, risky or challenging about the show. The crowd seemed to find this to be just what the doctor ordered.
After Razorlight's well-received but less than indelible opening set -- the band's blend of ska, punk, alternative and pop was cool, but not particularly groundbreaking nor well-played; sloppy and off-the-cuff seems to be the band's style, which didn't seem to be disappointing the assembled masses one bit -- Muse took the stage to manic applause, kicking into its clearly Radiohead- and Queen-influenced "Hysteria," and it must be said that this first tune was the most impressive one of the set.
Keening, melodramatic and marked by the epic tendencies that the band would hammer the audience with for the next two hours, the tune took the top of the listeners head off with surgical skill.
Bellamy's slightly distorted voice, drummer Dominic Howard's controlled chaos behind the drum kit and bassist Chris Wolstenhome's synth-like subterranean growl combined to raise the hair on the arms of those assembled.
The sound was fantastic, the light show was incredible, and for a moment, all was right, and one got the feeling that rock was once again marked by the majesty of such bands as Queen and "The Bends"-era Radiohead.
Trouble is, with Muse, the more you get, the less it means.
Which is not to say that the music on the band's 2004 tour de force "Absolution" is anything less than incredibly powerful and well-played.
It's just that one gets the nagging feeling that one has heard it all before. Bellamy's voice -- both in the studio and on stage -- is incredible, but whether by design or simple coincidence, it sounds so much like Radiohead's Thom Yorke as to become a bit bothersome, despite its readily apparent virtuosity.
Bellamy seems to have two speeds -- emotionally and sonically over the top and off.
That said, it must be noted that this lack of spontaneity and a tendency toward the exploitation of repetitive dynamics didn't seem to be wearing on the crowd at all. Muse was received with rapturous warmth, and new material was greeted with the same enthusiasm as better-known bits from "Absolution" and the slightly heavier, Goth-tinged metal of earlier releases.