Following a solid performance from New York-based electronic outfit Phantogram, the lights in the Staples Center were momentarily dimmed before LED-outfitted spheroids began their descent from the metal beams that towered over the circular stage in the center of the venue floor to the tune of “Drones.” It looked and felt more like a scene from a sci-fi movie than a concert experience, but this is what anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Muse has come to expect from the group.

Confession: It’s been a solid three releases since I truly enjoyed a Muse album. 2001’s Origin Of Symmetry remains my favorite release from the English trio, and like many other high schoolers of the early-2000s, Absolution figures prominently in the soundtrack of my adolescence.

I enjoyed Black Holes and Revelations enough, particularly because it gave us “Knights Of Cydonia,” which is supremely satisfying to witness in a live performance setting, but subsequent releases from the group just haven’t done it for me; the two most recent release in particular — 2012’s The 2nd Law and 2015’s Drones — were noteworthily lackluster in my books.

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All Photos by Chino Lemus

And yet when Muse announced LA stops to promote their latest effort, I made a point to be there to witness them in all their arena-filling glory for the fifth time — that’s how incredibly great they are live. Even when their setlist consists primarily of songs that I consider to be the weaker selections in the band’s repertoire, Muse plays so vigorously live that even critics like me who have no qualms admitting to being underwhelmed by their newest recorded offering can’t help but be swept away by the band’s undeniable musical talent and magnetism (“Dead Inside” and “Revolt” off the group’s latest release had me eating a bit of my skepticism).

The jaw-dropping staging certainly doesn’t hurt either. Gigantic glowing balloons that ripple over the crowd to the tune of “Starlight,” an inflatable rocket ship circling overhead, and a projected puppeteer whose strings use motion detection to follow vocalist/lead guitarist Matthew Bellamy and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme as they move around on stage are a small fraction of what the Drones tour had in store for its mesmerized audiences. The whole shebang borders on excessive in its grandiosity, creating a truly multi-sensory experience.

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Muse’s catalog is now seven releases deep, which means that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to squeeze in some of the group’s older material. The most notable victim this time around was “Stockholm Syndrome,” whose distinctive opening guitar riff and operatic chorus was sorely missed on this tour (those of us who went on the first of two nights in LA also had the misfortune of missing the band’s excellent cover of “Feeling Good”). 

Though our consolation prizes of “Hysteria,” “Plug In Baby,” “Supermassive Black Hole” (complete with a spiffy Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo Chile” intro), and “Time Is Running Out” sounded really, really, ridiculously good live, I still couldn’t help but feel like this set was a little incomplete.

Then again, it’s a little unfair of me to cry over what is undoubtedly a first world problem when I had the pleasure of closing out the night with an unapologetically epic “Knights Of Cydonia” finale. With the addition of an unassuming harmonica intro that barrels headfirst into Muse’s much-beloved 6-minute opus, the live rendition of “Knights Of Cydonia” is something everyone should experience once in their life regardless of whether or not they’re fans of the band to begin with. It’s that good.

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Despite this setlist being my least favorite from the group thus far, my answer to anyone who asks me if they should see Muse live is an unequivocal yes. The epitome of consummate performers, Muse is among the few remaining arena-caliber rock bands, and they have a habit of delivering astounding live shows with such consistency that if they were Olympic athletes, they would come under daily scrutiny for possible performance enhancing drug use. Believe all the hype you’ve heard about them.

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