Thursday night’s Muse show at PNC Music Pavilion was almost the concert that wasn’t.
I’ve no doubt many fans left early when lightning, high winds, and torrential rain postponed the headliner’s set by almost an hour and half and those in attendance without a roof over their heads were urged to retreat to their cars. In fact nearly two hours passed between the time actor Jared Leto, frontman of Thirty Seconds to Mars, bid the warm crowd adieu as dark skies rolled in.
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I haven’t waited that long for a headliner to appear since Axl Rose’s pre-reunion version of Guns n’ Roses played Greensboro in 2006. At least Muse and the staff at the Pavilion had a good reason to delay. It was the safer choice.
The circumstances were quite similar to one of the first concerts I ever reviewed for The Observer -- the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop Dogg, when PNC was Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in 2003. Just like Thursday night, the skies ripped open right after Snoop Dogg’s opening set and those of us on the lawn scattered in search of shelter. A man was electrocuted and died that night. Fourteen years later I was glad the potential danger was handled with more care.
For those of us who stuck it out, the wait made the show better. I knew as the minutes tick toward 10 o’clock that if the band actually took the stage, the place would erupt. Shortly before 10 the crew returned the effects pedals, monitors and microphones to the stage, house music hit, and sticking around seemed like a good idea. Muse took the stage around 10:20 with the new single “Dig Down” and gave the crowd its money’s worth.
Many would argue that Leto had already done that. The Echelon (Thirty Seconds’ fans) was out in droves, waving Trinity flags – some homemade, some storebought, and following the singer’s every instruction: “Get down. Jump! Chant ‘This Is War.’ Sing!”
Leto had actually fallen off my rock ’n’ roll radar after he won his Oscar for “Dallas Buyer’s Club” in 2014. That was also the last time the band played Charlotte, he noted. He was gracious and wondered aloud if Charlotte was the best crowd on the tour. Could be. Thirty Seconds To Mars cultivated an audience here playing clubs like Tremont, Amos’ and Warped Tour for years before graduating to bigger stages. The audience they nurtured hasn’t forgotten.
With the promise of a new album later this year, Leto gathered fans on stage for the last song – there actually appeared to be a pocket of fans already behind a barricade on stage for the whole show. He knelt and sang to a young girl who held a sign that said it was her birthday and first concert. It appeared to be many youngsters’ first show. A boy who spent the set dancing on the lawn explained his enthusiasm with: “I’ve never got to see him before. It’s my first concert.”
Then the clouds rolled in and I lost track of that kid as my son and I headed to our seats for shelter. As the wind swept clouds of rain under the pavilion canopy, we huddled by our seats, not as soaked as those left on the lawn, but far from dry. Then we waited.
When Muse finally emerged I wondered, given the late start, if noise laws would mean the set would be cut significantly short. Every time singer Matthew Bellamy thanked the crowd I feared the band would exit the stage.
Thankfully they were allowed a full set, which followed the apocalyptic, sci-fi themes it’s played with since 2003’s “Absolution.” As the crowd sang along to songs like “Hysteria” and “Resistance,” and later the finale of “Uprising” and “Knights of Cydonia,” the dystopian world depicted on the digital screens behind the band and the rallying cries in its lyrics no longer seemed as distant and fictional as when they were written.
The set shifted between that futuristic electronic funk and the hopeful romanticism of songs like “Starlight,” which Bellamy sang positioned out in the crowd. Sometimes both themes were present: “Time Is Running Out,” “Super Massive Black Hole.”
I tend to compare every Muse show to opening night of The Resistance Tour in Atlanta in 2010, which is one of the best arena shows I’ve ever seen -- partly because of towering sets, technical innovation and the grand capabilities of the musicians. But Thursday’s show was a close second -- for the opposite of reasons. The set was simple, and weathering the storm created a camaraderie that won’t easily be duplicated for the fans, or the band.