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MUSE: Bassist Chris Wolstenholme | Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser

Meet Brad Houser –

MUSE. The biggest band that many Americans have never heard of. England and Europe certainly know these gents quite well. Just check out their tour schedule… including nine stadium dates here in the US in the fall of 09.

MUSE is a riotous mix of many, many influences, thoroughly postmodern and completely up to date. U2 meets Radiohead. Living Colour hanging out with Beethoven. Bach meets Metallica with Yes mediating…………. etc.

For this column I went to Waterloo Records in Austin and bought MUSE’s “HAARP” live CD and DVD set. The video and audio is from two shows at Wembley Arena, London, June 16-17 2007.Packed. Sold out. The entire crowd knows all the lyrics to all the songs. This band is well-loved and then some.

MUSE, comprised of Chris Wolstenholme on bass, Dominic Howard on drums, and Matthew Bellamy on vox, guitar, and piano, formed in 1994 in Teignmouth, Devon, UK. They have four studio albums to date, with a fifth, “The Resistance” due Sept. 14, 09.

Interestingly, Celine Dion had to back down when she planned to name her Las Vegas show “Muse”, because the band owns worldwide performing rights to the name. She offered $50,000 for the rights, but the band refused, with singer Bellamy stating that “we don’t want to turn up there with people thinking we were Celine Dion’s backing band.”

MUSE could certainly play well in Vegas. Their stage setup is epic in proportion, and totally sci-fi. There are four large satellite dishes flanking the stage, with other square antenna arrays spread across the actual stage. This undoubtedly references “HAARP”, the antenna array in Alaska, sponsored by the US Air Force, Navy, and the University of Alaska. HAARP, or “High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program”, has generated much controversy worldwide…….. Much! I leave it to the reader to do further research. HAARP is like science fiction brought to life………… Further enhancing the MUSE stage set is a giant LED video screen across the entire back of the stage, and a small city’s worth of stage lighting. All this is used to great dramatic effect throughout the show.

On the video, the camera work is crystal clear, although the editing is a little too quick cut/ ADD for my tastes, but, whatever. The audio is well mixed and the band performance is spot-on. These men play extremely well together.

On bass, Chris Wolstenholme is solid and inventive. Frequently rocking on an array of jazz basses, with a Rickenbacker for good measure, Wolstenholme often uses distortion, effectively thickening the group sound. At other times he employs an SVT type steely grind, yet at other times using a very brown, warm tone. This man knows how to serve the song. His chameleonic sound and style serve as a solid backbone for MUSE, and he intelligently employs his substantial bass chops when necessary. Part Steve Harris, part Flea, part Chris Squire, with a little Muzz Skillings and Geezer Butler thrown in for good measure. I doubt that Wolstenholme is thinking of any of this while playing. His work on the intro to “Newborn” is an excellent Bach-type workout, sounding like the left hand of a two-part invention. Well done.

Soaring above Wolstenholme’s solidity is the star of the show, Matthew Bellamy. Sounding often like a Bono/ Thom Yorke hybrid, Bellamy delivers an impassioned performance with complete abandon. This gentleman loses himself in the music 100%.

As a guitarist, he has it all, with Tom Morello, Van Halen, and Jimi Hendrix coming to mind. He also is an accomplished classical pianist, using a grand piano outfitted with a clear lid to great effect. Bravo! Also of interest is his Korg KAOSS pad equipped guitar. Bellamy uses it for the occasional ray gun blast during solos……….I want one! Genius.

Drummer Dominic Howard keeps things simple and solid on his end. Show your Gospel Chops -obsessed drummer friend some footage of Mr. Howard for a quick lesson in minimalism and How To Serve The Song. Perfect.

The sci-fi theme/ mad mix of elements continues throughout the show. Track 2, “Knights of Cydonia” sounds like Iron Maiden playing the theme from Star Trek. It seems as if MUSE is at the lighter end of a continuum that has The Mars Volta at the darker end.

Both bands have that interesting combination of science fiction and……. outrage. Much of MUSE’s subject matter is non-specifically political…………”empowerment rock”, as I like to think of it. I am reminded of U2, also. MUSE has a similar feeling of triumph in their music and performance.

On YouTube there are a few excerpts of these over-the-top Wembley shows. Check these gents out, and witness the power of the Epic.

Thank you for supporting Bass Musician Magazine and this column… BH

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