Oh, to be Muse. You've conquered arenas, graduated to Wembley Stadium, cracked America, are as comfortable at V Festival as you are at Download, you've set the bar for what it is to be out on a full rock spectacle in the 21st Century, and you're about to headline Glastonbury for the third time. For most, complacency would be easy when you realise there are so few challenges left to overcome.
On the second night of their UK Drones tour and their first of five nights calling at The O2 arena in London, you may wonder if this is 'just another show' for Muse - a band well into their way rolling around the treadmill.
As the lights dim and drones drift out over the O2, circling a centre-stage where the band will be performing in the round, you realise that when no challenge exists, Muse will invent their own. Formed as three grunge outsiders in a sleepy Westcountry town, their ascent from rock's most extrovert nerds to the institution has only ever been on their own terms. Free from any scene or external factors, all that's left for them to do now is compete with themselves.
And that's something they do all-too-well. Ever since they became an arena prospect with third album Absolution in 2003, each subsequent tour has seen the band fearlessly leaping between the echelons of what it's possible for a rock band to do on stage. Many bands may shy away from bells and whistles and lean purely on performance and intensity. Muse however, want to give you the full package. Their ability to do this lies in their greatest characteristic - they're a band with no shame, and no inhibitions. And when you've no inhibitions, you really have no limits.
Drones spiral around The O2 as their latest album title track plays out a sci-fi meets Gregorian chant, lamenting the killing of countless innocents in the Middle East. Just as their albums have become concepts fully-realised, you can't fault Muse for making that physically manifest in the live arena. The O2 essentially becomes their own theme park, and as the thundering trash riffery of 'Psycho' roars around the room, you know this is going to be one hell of a ride.
While the stage rotates and the band rush from end of an arrow-head to another, Muse do everything within their power to make tonight personal - every corner of the room is given their full attention. The fiery battle-cry of 'Reapers' unifies the room in mosh-led defiance as it feels like it's being howled into the whites of your eyes, while the joyful abandon of Origin Of Symmetry's 'Bliss' has never felt like such an immersive experience.
The industrial, raw-nerved stomper of 'Dead Inside' lands now like an old favourite, while the Absolution-esque, searing rock presence of fellow newbie 'The Handler stands tall as one of the best tracks the band have produced in years - as stunning visuals project the band being controlled by puppeteers. It's an audiovisual triumph.
The story arc of the Drones concept then finds room for older material, largely leaning on Black Holes And Revelations, which scarily celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The Prince meets Marilyn Manson sex-funk-metal of 'Supermassive Black Hole' and the camp-pop elegance of 'Starlight' flow with crowd-pleasing perfection, and the surprise inclusion of the achingly underrated Depeche Mode synth epic 'Map Of The Problematique' makes for the unquestionable highlight of the evening.
It's moments like this that are a credit to Muse - they're anything but predictable. Naturally the chart-ready 'Time Is Running Out', 'Hysteria' and 'Madness' are aired to cement the set together, but it seems tonight we're treated to simmering rendition of their cover of 'Feeling Good', rather than the modern day bona fide rock anthem 'Plug In Baby'. Other nights on this tour have seen the band tear through the likes of this and 'Citizen Erased', and the shock exclusion of so much Origin Of Symmetry material is tonight's only real disappointment. Still, we'd rather that than see a band going through the motions and becoming a touring museum of hits.
A curtain falls as the band end the first set with 'Globalist'. A chillingly beautiful dystopian landscape is projected across the stage as Bellamy leads the trio through a mini-rock odyssey that largely traces the thread of their very DNA - a world where rock meets classical, and Freddie Mercury stands hand in hand with Elgar.
Returning for an encore of the bitter anti-Bush tirade of 'Take A Bow', the fist-pumping pomp of 'Mercy' and ultimate space-rock closer of 'Knights Of Cydonia', ticker tape rains down as the band emerge from the battle with themselves totally triumphant. Elaborate to the point of insanity it may be, but that's what you've come to expect - you can hardly call it 'ridiculous'. Everything is overblown, but fully-considered. Call them what you will but celebrate them for what they are: an exercise in blockbuster rock. No shame, no inhibitions, no fear, no limits.
Glastonbury, you're next...again.
The 2nd Law: Isolated System
Supermassive Black Hole
Map of the Problematique
Time Is Running Out
Take a Bow
Knights of Cydonia
Muse's remaining UK + Ireland tour dates are below. For tickets and more information, visit here.
Muse will play:
5 Dublin 3Arena (w/ Nothing But Thieves)
6 Belfast SSE Arena (w/ Nothing But Thieves)
8 Manchester Arena (w/ Nothing But Thieves)
9 Manchester Arena (w/ Phantogram)
11 London O2 Arena (w/ Phantogram)
12 London O2 Arena (w/ Phantogram)
14 London O2 Arena (w/ Phantogram)
15 London O2 Arena (w/ Phantogram)
17 Glasgow SSE Hydro (w/ Phantogram)
18 Glasgow SSE Hydro (w/ Nothing But Thieves)