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Surrounded by debris, death stars, deaf scars, and burnt-out hearts, we're all a little charred but it doesn't mean one can't channel sober emotion into music of soaring magnificence. Enter The Elbow, from Bury: famous for being dropped by Island, they're the kind of band to send you skywards with their rich and quite inimitable lullaby rock. Don't let looks fool you, they're not a quintet of smack-addicted dustmen and neither are they meandering shoe gazers. You'd place them somewhere in the vicinity of early Spiritualized, but Elbow's wash of gravelly falsetto and warm, recurring hooks is rather unique, buffering mournful longing with very occasional bursts of shattering noise. There's a deeply wistful beauty to what they do, and despite the dourness of their subject matter, their music is strangely quite uplifting.
Comatose, soma-nosed, in search of the unknown and seemingly still heroless, welcome The Muse, a House Jazz Band from the gatekeeper of Hell's local. Skinnier than Jesus at Easter and cloaked in the galaxy, Matthew Bellamy evidently believes in holy ghosts. 'It's time for something biblical!' he blasts from amid his massive, light-straddling piano, opening with the mighty 'Apocalypse Please', his two henchmen atop similarly towering podiums to his left.
Despite many contrasts (the stage show for one), Elbow and Muse share a rainbow of Technicolored, romantic brilliance. Skewed by exquisite musicianship and a fascinating sense of alternative style, where Muse are exuberant and simply chaotic, the Mancunians are just simple. Or so you'd think if you dismissed them merely as 'acoustic miserablists'. 'New Born' is one long jam built around Garvey's randomly unique vocals. It builds, unfolding into something quite remarkable, and as the jarring jazz rhythms face off against the prog-style synths, the guitar melodies swirl around to great effect.
If Elbow aren't a prog band, then Muse indubitably are, as the likes of 'Citizen Erased' show. There's still no one else juxtaposing Rage Against The Machine with classical pianists like Rachmaninov and Bach, and just as 'Bliss' still sounds like Opera FM at the magic mushroom factory, their older singles like 'Muscle Museum' stand firm in the face of 'Time Is Running Out' and the monstrous new single, 'Hysteria'. Muse's 'New Born' sees Bellamy comically fall on his arse while lapping the stage after the tiptoeing piano intro, ripping the place apart with his guitar. It's as quiet as it gets.
Undeterred, he brushes himself off graciously and spends the rest of the set bouncing even higher like a chipmunk in heat. Making plentiful use of backing tracks (pre-recorded piano and string parts, complete with computer-generated violinists on the screens), they often fall foul of playing to a click (an electronic timing device making sure everything's in synch). It may add depth to the sound, but it invariably restricts the spontaneity of the music. Elbow's love of backing singers is evident on the likes of 'Ribcage', but only on 'Blackout' do Muse finally give in and play with a fourth member ('Barry' on keys). Let's face it, there's little danger of Bellamy ever being overshadowed, even if they had a full 75-piece orchestra.
Tonight, as always, is about the dizzying spine rush of tracks like the crushing finale, 'Stockholm Syndrome'. The feeling of blood leaving your limbs and flushing your ears to make the music even louder is pure ecstasy. It's what Muse are all about: sonic acupuncture amid furious, psychotic rock fantasies. They usurp your body where Elbow usurp your soul and while Muse are rock's most fucked up chaos theory, Elbow maintain a wonderful graciousness without any need to ascend to often quite pompous musical climes. This is the brilliance of both bands.
Just as Elbow's beauty increases with every listen, Muse's fantasy ride keeps building momentum, gaining speed you never knew was there and doing things previously impossible. They've leveled out now, so a change of track may be on the way, but not until after they've blown away the major outdoor festivals in 2004. It's feeling good.
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