“It was so embarrassing, it was terrible”: Muse on their most galling onstage malfunction

Muse live in 2009
(Image credit: Jim Dyson/WireImage)

The problem with shooting for the spectacular is that, when something goes wrong, you’re going to end up looking pretty daft. That’s why it’s easier not to do anything interesting ever, like me. Muse can’t help themselves, though. Across their entire career, they’ve always done things with a theatrical panache and the belief that a little bit of bombast goes a long way. When Matt Bellamy, Dom Howard and Chris Wolstenholme pull it off, which they usually do, it looks brilliant. Anyone who was at their first batch of Wembley Stadium dates, when they appeared in the middle of the giant venue at the end of a huge walkway to make their entry, will concur:

In fact, they have never been known to make a low-key entry. Even before they were playing huge venues, they knew how to ramp up suspense and arrive onstage in as show-y manner as possible – as they did during the run of dates captured in their tour film Hullaballoo , when they appeared from behind flashing screens to the sound of Tom Waits’ ominous What’s He Building?:

The bigger the venues got, the bigger their ideas got… and the bigger the chance that it could all go wonky. That’s what happened during their hugely successful tour to support 2009’s The Resistance. The shows saw the trio arrived high above the ground, each on their own platform in the middle of a huge LED tower and each revealed by a curtain that would drop as they kicked into opening song Uprising. When all went to plan, it was a jaw-dropping way to start a gig.

The problem was, as drummer Dom Howard explained to me a few years ago, it didn’t always go to plan. “The towers was a great walk-on but it came at a price every now and then where the curtain wouldn’t drop,” Howard said, pinpointing one occasion when all went awry and some of his heroes were there to watch. “We were playing in LA at the Staples Center, a big deal over there,” he recalled. “There was one night where we knew people like Tom Morello and a bunch of musicians were coming down. We knew they were there in the audience and we were like, ‘Fuck, we’ve gotta be good tonight. We started playing Uprising and Chris’s curtain didn’t drop, then mine dropped and Matt’s dropped and all these guys had to come onstage, trying to get Chris’s down, yanking it. It was so embarrassing, it was terrible.”

It wasn’t so terrible that it has put Muse off trying to come up with more mad ideas. Since then, there has been flying drones, huge inflatable skeletons, UFOs and dazzling pyrotechnics. Muse don’t know how to do low-key.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.