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Musings on seeing Muse for free in the Staples Center on Jan. 24:

  •   My buddy, Love, called me at about 6 p.m. and said he’d procured free tickets to Muse. Doors were at 7 p.m. He groveled, begging me to put off two articles I had planned on finishing that night. I benevolently assented.
  •   Immediately, Mrs. Love and I headed up to Los Angeles. I don’t like L.A. I think it’s soulless. They smothered the ground with cement and then erected industrial buildings across the dryness. It holds very little charm. But Mrs. Love lived a couple blocks from the venue downtown, so to her the place is nostalgic. Things mean different things to different people, I guess.
  •   Since he was driving from work, Mr. Love met us there. Still jittery from a busy day, he called Mrs. Love roughly every two minutes, changing where we should meet up and making sure we brought him food and coordinating other frivolous details. Why didn’t we just stay still nearby and he could come to us, I ventured. “What I’ve learned from marriage is that you have to pick your battles,” Mrs. Love said. This wasn’t one she bothered to fight.
  •   Inside, as we circled the stadium looking for our section (Staples Center is a basketball/hockey stadium owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group), Love, $10 beer in hand, said he’d heard Muse puts on perhaps the best live show going at the moment. I suggested no concert in a stadium was in the running.
  •   Our seats were as far away from the stage as possible. On the field level, near the middle of what would be the court, was a massive sound/lights/lasers control booth. Beyond that was general admission, people milling about inside a fenced-off area that came within a couple feet of the stage. We were as high up as seats went, against the far wall: section 308, row 7, seat number 17. Or, at least, that’s where I was. The seats weren’t together, which is how Love snagged three. As people kept filing in, our attempts to sit together unraveled.
  •   Before we split up, the Loves briefly argued about where to leave the cars for an upcoming vacation. In the end, the husband was right to leave his car at work, and Mrs. Love admitted so. “This is marriage,” Love said, pointing at his wife. “She always thinks she’s right.”
  •   I sat between two teenage girls, my arms crossed to preserve limited elbow room. The one on my right had a shrieking problem. How I Met Your Mother would dub her a Woo Girl, except her woo threatened to split my eardrums. The one on my left watched the entire concert through the screen of her digital camera. “Enjoy the show,” her boyfriend implored her. “I am enjoying it,” she said. I think this makes me old, but I don’t understand the desire to document every experience with shitty pictures and shittier video. Your cell phone’s camera isn’t good enough to make a picture of lights a stadium away look interesting. It comes out as a bright blur. And your audio-recording equipment (not to mention lack of mixing software) does the live sound a disservice. /old person rant.
  •   The trio in front of me showed up midway through the first song, toked up, and proceeded to dance through most of the concert, obscuring my already limited view. “I think they were on something,” Mrs. Love said later. The light show was probably more enjoyable high, I thought.
  •   Can we talk about white people dancing? No one can dance quite as poorly as white folk. During the rocking songs, the stadium — or the parts of it I could see — broke out in awkward, gangly, off-beat gyration. Hips jutted out of rhythm. Fists and arms flailed seemingly to different songs. I tapped my toes.
  •   Muse are rock stars. During an early solo, the guitarist rode one of his thrusts smoothly to his knees and continued soloing away. Ever since seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln I’ve been thinking about what our posture conveys about us (the way he hunches; the slow, old-man march of a gait — half mournful, half wistful as he disappears down the hallway toward his *SPOILER* death). The members of Muse have the posture of rock stars. They are comfortable on stage, which is evident no matter how far away you sit.
  •   Love met Muse once. He works in entertainment. He came home with a picture of them on his iPhone. The lead singer looks like a youth pastor. The concert felt, to me, like it could fit in the genre of mega-church worship, except good. I’ve seen many of the stage habits, the lights and the overwrought choruses in mega-churches. Except, of course, that Muse can fucking jam and that they nail those larger-than-life swells. Still, it felt at times like the hardest-rocking church band of all time.
  •   In front of me, a man with his septum pierced passed, holding a beer, on the way to his seat. In the other hand, he led his 10-year-old child.
  •   There are three members in Muse. I know this because I could see three people strutting around. But stage-left of the drum kit was a fourth. From what I can tell from the brief glimpses of when lights accidentally fell on him, he played keyboards, second guitar and some percussion. I felt deep affinity with this man. The spotlight never fell on him. The video cameras never picked him up. He probably makes several hundred times less than the three others on stage with him. But he is essential.
  •   Essential, too, were the 50 or so others involved in the production. The guitar techs, the sound guys, and whatever genius designed that light show. Along the back, in a half circle, were a series of screens maybe 5 feet long each. From the roof directly above the stage, a pyramid of screens lowered and raised throughout the show. The levels of the pyramid overlapped and interchanged, so that it did not always hold its pyramid shape. All these screens showed graphics, live footage from the show, or other video (as when the pyramid landed on the stage and played an extended clip while the band took a discreet breather). For one song they showed a cute hippopotamus dancing. It’s hard to explain without showing you, but even as screens overlapped and shifted, images moved between them seamlessly. Someone put many dozen or perhaps hundreds of hours into programming that, and it is an exceptional accomplishment. “I felt like he should have been on stage too,” Love said.
  •   I’m not deeply familiar with Muse’s discography. I own a few albums and am acquainted with the hit songs. I remember once playing euchre with Rat. I was winning. We were talking about music. “Why listen to Coldplay when you could just listen to Radiohead?” I said. “Why listen to Radiohead when you could just listen to Muse?” he countered. I hated him then. Ever since, I’ve kept Muse at arm’s length, secretly holding it against them that they will never ever be nearly as good as Radiohead.
  •   I heard on the radio that the singer wrote that Madness song you’ve heard way too many times recently about his girlfriend (wife?). She went to stay with her mother during a fight, and while she was away he wrote that song. It boggled my brain to imagine writing a Muse song. Most musicians you can kind of piece together how they do it. They strum some strings and hum a tune and if you jumble a bunch of other stuff on top it equals a song. Or they plink some keys to start. But how do you write a Muse song? Surely not on an acoustic guitar. They seem to come preformed, breech-birthed in dense recording, a matrix of rhythms, and explosive digital crescendos.
  •   I’ve been listening to a lot of Shearwater recently, one, because Animal Joy is the best album that was or ever will be released in 2012, and, two, because I found the CD in my car a few days ago. These bands are very distinct and the vocalists are obviously different, but I think the singers belong in the same category. That category might be: “the sound released when you crack open the earth’s core.”
  •   Matt Bellamy’s voice only faltered once during the show, when he stuttered over the lyric “They will not control us” on Uprising.
  •   Maybe it was the seats. Maybe it was the girl who took a 20 minute break in the middle of the show to buy overpriced nachos from AEG. But I witnessed this concert; I did not experience it. It felt like watching a concert on television, except without the closeups and with a bunch of jerks I didn’t invite in my living room. I felt no obligation to clap or cheer or woot or buy merch. When I felt the stickiness of beer underneath the sole of my boots, it was up in the cold clammy corner of a stadium, not in a sweaty bar.
  •   I read a bucket-list-suggestions thing that included attending a sold-out huge stadium concert. In my head I thought of Pink Floyd. I imagined an open-aired stadium, grass. I thought it would feel like being part of something. History, maybe. Or at least a rebellion of some sort — those kids and their rock musics and drugs and silly clothes. This show was not historic. It was not rebellious. It was a show you bring your kid to. It was a place to sit and eat nachos. Every second was meticulously choreographed and rehearsed. There was nothing raw about it. The condom didn’t even peel up around the base.
  •   Outside, after the show, we walked to the $5 parking lot where Love’s coworker’s car (and Love’s backpack inside it) waited. The parking lot attendant shotgunned a beer, stomped on the empty can, and kicked it underneath a car. “He’s so over it,” Love said. I think I would have rather watched a concert in that dirty lot, with that drunk parking lot attendant, than a few blocks away in the sterile Staples Center.

[The Second Law.]

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