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Natasha Aftandilians | Staff Photographer

It was 8:45 p.m. at  Staples Center and the pungent-smelling smoke in the air was not coming from the fog machine at the back of the arena.

The yellow-tinged light filtered lazily through the smoke. Music played from the speakers while the crowd waited. The arena was oddly quiet — lacking the usual pre-show tension. The stage loomed in the blackness as the sedated crowd stood under the haze.

Suddenly, three columns hanging above the stage lit up and the silvery-grey silhouette of a man climbing a never-ending set of stairs projected from each of the three columns. Music started. The columns split open to reveal a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer playing on three platforms ten feet above the stage, gazing out over a sea of flashing lights, raised fists and screaming fans. “Uprising” had begun.

Muse headlined the second of their two sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based band Passion Pit opened for them with a nine-song set.

Guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard pushed all the right rock buttons with their rotating hydraulically-powered towers, a laser light show, Bellamy’s flashing reflective suit and extended riffs and jams to a number of their songs at their last Los Angeles date on this tour. Though the cover over Wolstenholme’s platform failed to drop down just as “Uprising” was to begin, the rest of the show rumbled on without any glitches.

After opening with “Uprising,” the trio continued on to “Resistance,” “New Born,” “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever),” “Hysteria,” “Nische,” “United States of Eurasia,” “Ruled By Secrecy,” “Bliss,” “Helsinki Jam,” “Undisclosed Desires,” “Starlight,” “Plug In Baby,” “Time Is Running Out” and “Unnatural Selection.”

Fans punched the air in rhythm with the songs, jumping up and down. Screaming filled the arena at times but for most of the concert the crowd, both on the floor and in the seated sections above, stood still, transfixed by the music.

In spite of being a trio, Muse truly has the stage presence of a much larger band. Whether it is Bellamy’s amazing guitar and piano riffs, his piercing falsetto vocals, Howard’s thundering drums or Wolstenholme’s meaty bass lines, Muse’s music is mesmerizing. So enthralling that even when you feel the urge to jump around, you stop after a few seconds for fear of missing out on the music.

Bellamy briefly paused the show after “Starlight” ended and gave a shout out to LA. “It’s great being here,” he shouted into the microphone. “It’s a great venue — the home of the Lakers.”

Muse left abruptly after “Unnatural Selection” ended. Lights out on the pitch-black stage. The audience erupted in a standing ovation.

The stage lit up again for an encore. Though the trio only played three more songs, “Exogenesis: Symphony,” “Part 1: Overture,” “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Knights of Cydonia,” the encore was the most striking part of the night, in particular “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Knights of Cydonia.” “Stockholm Syndrome” segued into an epic jam session built on 10 riffs just shy of nine minutes in length, driving the crowd into a frenzy.

Next, they began “Knights of Cydonia” with Wolstenholme playing the harmonica in an intro based on Ennio Morricone’s chilling “Man With a Harmonica” track from the classic 1968 western film “Once Upon A Time In The West.” The intro was so affecting that it almost eclipsed the song.

Throughout the 2000s, Muse has risen in status to become one of the pre-eminent rock bands in the world. However, just six years ago, they performed at small venues like The Mayan in downtown LA. They were a tiny band that sounded too big for their venues. Muse has since graduated to playing at some of the largest venues around the world.

In the past 11 years, Muse has slowly mounted what can only be called a global musical movement. Worshiping fans and tours with bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2 have made Muse into one of the most popular rock groups in the world.

What distinguishes Muse is a constantly expanding expression of musicality and theatricality. The mosh pit may not have been out of control at last Sunday’s concert, but the light show and the music kept the crowd, whether on the floor or in seats, enthralled. In addition to a reference to Morricone’s “Man With A Harmonica,” the trio also weaved in references to “House of the Rising Sun” in their intro to “Time Is Running Out,” plus “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Back In Black” into Hysteria.

Lights pulsated with the drumbeats, changing colors with the tone of each note. At the end of “Knights of Cydonia,” jets of smoke shot up around the circular stage. The lights suddenly cut out and Muse vanished. The crowd cheered. The show was over.

Fans groped in the darkness as they left the Staples Center. A slight breeze blew in to Los Angeles that night, carrying the sweet smell of the desert air out across Figueroa Street. On the street corner, a homeless saxophone player whispered out a tune into the hot, humid air. The streetlights reflected green and red and yellow off the saxophone’s fluted bell, casting a muted light onto the sidewalk.

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