21st Century Appearances: 2011 Main Stage Headliner, 2006 Main Stage Headliner, 2002 Main Stage, 2000 Radio One Stage Headliner
The Defining Reading Moment: Just one? Are you kidding me? “Plug In Baby” in 2002? Origin Of Symmetry in full? No? We’ll have to settle for “Knights Of Cydonia” kick starting 2006’s headline set and instantaneously putting an end to the fears of a mass walk out after Arctic Monkeys’ highly anticipated subheadline set.
Muse are a band that forcibly make you a fan. From 2000 right up to 2006 there was always a complaint; they’re too whiny, they’re too pretentious, they’re too much like Radiohead, they’re too bombastic, they’re too cheesy, they’re too small to headline, etc, etc, etc. It may come as a shock to newer fans who only know the totalitarian beast of a band that can seemingly sell out Wembley with a snap of Matt Bellamy’s fingers, but back in the early 2000s Muse were the unlikely underdogs, continually derided and second guessed.
They made it to the top (and stayed there) the good old fashion way, with one mind blowing performance after another. Much like previous entrant Arcade Fire they took crowds of doubters and turned them into believers, but while the Canadian eight piece used strength of emotion, Muse used sheer scale and ambition. Even back in 2000 inside the rough and ready NME tent Muse sounded too big to contain. Matt’s voice towered and Chris’ bass exploded against the tents narrow confines as “Sunburn” and “Showbiz” hinted at the band’s stadium sized intentions.
By 2002 Muse were ready to send jaws crashing to floor as they uncorked what is widely regarded as the best performance of the band’s entire career. The versions of “Plug In Baby” and “Citizen Erased” (included) are wild and visceral but never ragged, and they rise and fall with a depth of emotion that ranges from apocalyptic fury to quiet disappear. It was the kind of set that had everyone jumping but was remembered as more than just an instantaneous thrill, the crowd were keenly aware that they were watching something truly epic (in the traditional sense).
2006 was all about proving the doubters wrong. Black Holes And Revelations had opened the band up to both newer and bigger audiences but also a new level of critical scorn. The album proved as mockable as it did loveable, and it didn’t help that a little band by the name of Arctic Monkeys were playing one slot beneath them at Reading. NME made it their personal crusade to start a nationwide debate about who should headline, the battle lines were drawn, and the arguments were fierce (think Arcade Fire vs. The Libs times a million).
Come Sunday morning there was no more debate, both bands were superb, but Muse proved beyond a shadow of a doubt why they were, and should always have been, headliners. Their show was tyrannical in it’s ambition, they may have pinched Radiohead’s lighting rig and stage set up, but the spiraling solos, the massive jams, the skyscraper riffs and the intergalactic scope of the whole affair proved unparalleled, but not un-relatable. A charming clap-along to “Starlight” got everyone involved (that was new back then) while “Feeling Good” provided the kind of neutral friendly sing-along that made everyone feel part of the occasion. It was total dominance, another stunning Reading set.
2010 was a victory lap, in fact it was two victory laps. The first was a unmistakable reminder (via Origin Of Symmetry) of Muse’s bleak heart, that this was a band obsessed with tyranny, megalomania and terrors of both unwieldy capitalism and the encroaching state. The second was an hour long greatest hits set, complete with nostalgic “did you go to that tour” visuals. Muse have little left to prove, but I don’t suppose that’ll stop Reading or it’s crowd from inviting them back at least one more time. David Hayter