Muse's Manchester AO Arena show proves that whatever route their music may take, they'll always be one of the greatest live bands in all of music

Muse bring the hits, charm and a ton of showmanship to Manchester

Matt Bellamy live on stage
(Image: © Frederica Burrelli)

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When it comes to Muse, evolution is paramount. From ethereal space-synth majesty to defiant industrial rebellion, the rockers rarely tread the same path twice - and the approach has proven to be a success, records reliably topping the UK charts for the last 20 years. 2022’s Will Of The People served as the group’s latest sonic foray, and the glam rock dystopia charmed fans worldwide.

While their ever-shifting sound may run the risk of alienating certain listeners, there is one thing that constantly lures fans back: Muse know how to put on a damn good show. There’s a reason the core trio have been packing out arenas for over two decades - they’re technically faultless, refusing to bulk out shows with dead air chatter and focusing on the music. And, considering the turnout at the AO Arena tonight, everybody knows they’re in for an evening of back-to-back bangers.

Nova Twins open up the evening in style, delivering a slew of forked-tongue alt rock anthems. Decked out in black and yellow DIY get ups, the punk duo prowl around the stage, fizzling with energy. As they back-bend their way through antagonising riffs, you can’t help but fall victim to their sharp charm.

The Twins’ snarling sound perfectly prepares the arena for the main event. In a blaze of flames, Muse kick things off of a theatrical high; donning silver masks, the group kick things off firmly rooted within the Will Of The People world, opening on the album’s battle-cry of a titular track.

As the track draws to a triumphant close, the masks are shed - and we’re immediately taken back in time. While that may be due to Absolution’s Hysteria taking hold in honour of the record’s 20th anniversary, it’s also due to just how unchanging Muse are in themselves; the neon stage design glistens with a metallic sheen, tech-infused guitars and synthesiser gloves hinting at something wildly futuristic, yet Matt Bellamy still spikes up his hair with VO5 pomade. But, somehow, this is Muse’s charm. The fact that these guys are pretty normal blokes makes every beat, every bassline, hit even harder. Yes, Matt Bellamy hasn’t updated his wardrobe in 20 years - but he’s also gotten exponentially better at playing.

This is proven constantly by the dynamic musicality on display. Riff-driven fury feeds gorgeously into Butterflies & Hurricanes, seeing Bellamy take to the keys with a flourish. The piano-driven odyssey is met with awe and, rather than being a softer moment of refuge, the crowd howls along to the fluctuating piano as eagerly as a meaty riff. The start of Space Dementia similarly buzzes with uproar, the track met with acclaim as its rich flurry of oozing sci-fi distortion washes over the arena.

From the massive, blazing red satanic bull that emerges near the end of the set, to the perpetual pyrotechnics that threaten to engulf the arena in flames, Muse work the crowd up brilliantly. While some Will Of The People tracks feel shallow on record, the sheer volume of the crowd gives them new life. Certain older tunes also seem hyper-charged when slotted alongside Will Of The People tracks; at times the room is entirely consumed by call-and-response, from the howl of the (Drill Sergeant) to the existential rumble of Psycho and Uprising

As the night draws to a close, bassist Chris Wolstenholme walking out to perform his iconic harmonica intro for Knights of Cydonia, the masses go all out for the closer. Pits whirl and howl along, leaving one thing in people’s minds as the track reaches its triumphant finish - Muse nail it every time. 

Muse Manchester AO Arena setlist 2023

Will Of The People
Butterflies & Hurricanes
Won't Stand Down
Thought Contagion
Space Dementia
Time Is Running Out
The 2nd Law: Isolated System
Undisclosed Desires
You Make Me Feel Like It's Halloween
We Are Fucking Fucked
The Dark Side
Supermassive Black Hole
Plug In Baby
Behold, The Glove
Stockholm Syndrome
Knights Of Cydonia

Emily Swingle

Full-time freelancer, part-time music festival gremlin, Emily first cut her journalistic teeth when she co-founded Bittersweet Press in 2019. After asserting herself as a home-grown, emo-loving, nu-metal apologist, Clash Magazine would eventually invite Emily to join their Editorial team in 2022. In the following year, she would pen her first piece for Metal Hammer - unfortunately for the team, Emily has since become a regular fixture. When she’s not blasting metal for Hammer, she also scribbles for Rock Sound, Why Now and Guitar and more.