The tweet came in at around noon.
It simply read ‘London.Tonight.#Drones’. The attached poster had the relevant details - £20 cash only. One ticket per person. First come first served. Only available from the box office. Box office opens: 3pm. Each a vital piece of information that informed my decision to drop everything and get from where I live in Oxford to London as quickly as I could to watch Muse do a surprise concert.
I was willing to wager the train fare that I would get a ticket. Mulling over what my competition for a ticket would be - the Electric Ballroom in London has a capacity of 1,100. Muse usually plays to 20,000 at the O2 Arena or the like in London, so the odds didn’t seem great. But, crucially, the tweet went out at noon on a Friday, and not earlier, so I was effectively in a race against university students and people who could leave work at short notice. It was a risk one was willing to take.
Arriving at Camden Town station an hour before the box office opened. Walking past the quite formidable crowd, I kept updating my memory of the Electric Ballroom. ‘Remember it holds at least six hundred people’, I thought. ‘Ok, eight hundred’, passing further along the queue. ‘Ok, a thousand’, clutching at straws. Security at the end of the queue, however, assured me that I would get in and they were right.
One of the great joys of attending a gig like this is that most of the people in the queue are massive fans. A game of ‘what obscure song are they going to play?’ quickly ensued. This was perhaps the only aspect of the show that one could even vaguely complain about- the only truly obscure song they played was the two-and-a-half minute B-side to the Uno single, Agitated. Other than that, it was what you might expect from a band promoting a new album- five new songs (the first half of the new album, Drones) and a selection of classics. It was a strong set, though- you’d be hard pressed to argue that any of Stockholm Syndrome, Uprising, Supermassive Black Hole, Plug In Baby,* Starlight *or Hysteria didn’t deserve to be there.
The audience was mostly hardcore fans who had cancelled all Friday evening plans at a moment’s notice to be here. Even frontman Matt Bellamy seemed slightly taken aback by the response. `We didn’t have a mosh pit at Download’, he said in response to the pit that consumed much of the venue- thoroughly appropriate during THAT riff in Knights Of Cydonia, less so during the chorus of Mercy.
Remembering something that George Lucas said in an interview a few years ago, ‘a special effect with no story is a pretty boring thing’. Having seen Muse three times before tonight, like so many, one was always drawn to the spectacle of the show. What the band demonstrated tonight was that all of that is merely a way to enhance the core experience of watching a great live band tell a story. Over-the-top pyrotechnics can mask a great deal at Download, but in front of a thousand people, performing without even a backdrop, a band is truly exposed. And Muse proved that the fact that they are one of the biggest bands in the world is no fluke. Bring on the new arena shows!