During my recent trip to the UK I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to visit Paris to see Muse play at the foot of the iconic Eiffel Tower. Utilising the existing Euro 16 football tournament infrastructure, including the fan zone area with the stage and large screens, the band followed their recent Drones World Tour with a one-off gig in the heart of the city.
Security, understandably, was intense, with multiple checkpoints for anyone entering the precinct. To be honest, I was pretty unsure about the wisdom of attending something so large, and so relatively near the horrific events of the Eagles of Death Metal’s gig but, along with the intense security presence required for Euro 16, I felt like we’d be very well protected. Arriving at the precinct we encountered our first ultra-heavily armed checkpoint where we had our tickets and bags checked, then submitted to a hands-on search by the security personnel. Far beyond your normal event security, these were the French Gendarmerie and national security personnel and there was zero tolerance. I must add that it didn’t hurt that many of the obviously elite military personnel were far from unattractive, but I digress.
Having passed the first check-point we joined the queue – I’d managed, somehow, to secure myself a ticket to the Golden Circle – where folk had been lining up for many hours before us. I think we probably arrived at a good time, having avoided the need to queue all day, but getting there before the later arrivals. I think it probably took us an hour from lining up until we were finally moving through the second security point of the day. Third security point was the most rigorous, I feel, with us divided into queues by gender so that we could be thoroughly searched. I opted to go without a bag so only had to pull out my phone and ticket from my pockets, but a full bag search (again) was undertaken for anyone carrying one. Must say, that it was the sort of body search where you’d probably usually ask someone to buy you a drink before getting that intimate.
Inside the fan zone there was a cashless society – in order to make any purchases you first had to buy a cashless card which could be topped up if required. We pooled our funds to get a joint card and headed into the food area to get ourselves a few dry baguettes and a super expensive soft drink each. We were not allowed to keep the lids of the soft drink, which was a first for me, and didn’t leave you with a lot of options other than drinking all of your drink before it went flat or tossing out half of it. Disappointing food selection considering the enforced nature of it, as you certainly couldn’t bring in any food or drink from outside.
We found ourselves a spot about ten feet back from the barrier on the right hand side of the stage, perched awkwardly on a patchy grass embankment. It was obviously going to be something of a bun fight once Muse came on but we were happy enough for the time being. I found it something of a personal challenge adjusting to the French attitude to smoking, particularly as I have dodgy lungs, but when in Rome… or Paris…
Where we were located we had a small group of French folk who had plonked themselves on the ground – fair play, as it was a pretty long wait between doors and the support act – and it was going to prove to be very problematic not too far down the track, but we’ll come back to that.
Support act was X Ambassadors from the US. I’ve not heard anything by them, nor seen them before, and I found them to be enjoyable. They were energetic and enthusiastic, particularly their keyboard player with his own special brand of dance moves, and I can most liken them to Imagine Dragons, in fact they performed a track they had collaborated on with them so it made sense. It was during this support set that I found myself glancing up at the Eiffel Tower just behind the stage and having to pinch myself. It’s not every day, especially from our side of the world, to be at a gig in such an iconic and scenic location. It still hasn’t really sunk in.
After a short delay when it seems the roof of the sound/lighting desk blew off prior to the main act it was finally time for Muse to hit the stage. I hadn’t been able to see any of their World Tour (though that term is debatable, surely, when you’ve skipped a significant portion of the planet…) and had not heard any of the songs from their latest album, Drones, live. They opened the show with the intro from the album which is [Drill Sergeant] and we were soon all shouting out “yes, sir!” back to the band at the appropriate points. First proper track was Psycho which brought out the appropriate level of insanity from the crowd. The aforementioned plonkees had finally got to their feet but turned into plonkers when two of them didn’t want their precious space taken up when the crowd tightened up for the show. I’m not sure which planet they normally gig on but anyone who has been within 30 feet of a barrier knows you don’t have the luxury of maintaining your own personal dancefloor. It got ugly when one of the men, and I use the term loosely, decided to push back hard against those of us behind him, laughing his arrogant little face off and half of us stumbled backwards down the hill. I told him to stop, and both of my friends did the same, but he just thought he was hilarious. His partner was wearing thongs/flip-flops so that says a lot about their intent to share their space. An older English gent to my right decided to intervene and we tried to call security to him but he mistook our angry pointing and gestures as a call for medical aid. The medics came in and departed swiftly once they realised they weren’t required, though I know there were quite a few of us wanting to send him out one way or the other. Obviously someone behind us got bored with it all and the shoved us all forward, sending me and at least one of my friends rapidly down the hill in front of us. Oddly this worked to our favour, for once, as we found ourselves one person back from the barrier, and a good 15 feet closer to the action. I was particularly pleased as I was very close to my idol, Chris Wolstenholme. We were finally able to concentrate on the gig itself and got ourselves into some singing and dancing for the remainder of Psycho.
Photo by Jennifer Quinlin
Second track up was Plug In Baby, notoriously bouncy and crowd-participation friendly, and we were having a right old time until a new drunk tosspot emerged from behind us and pushed us so hard in the backs that we fell forward, only to meet the counter-surge from those on the barrier so that at least four of us fell backwards, hard, to the ground. I managed to land right on the shoulder that I’d just had a procedure done on and swore a few times as I lay under the pile. The surrounding French fans were super helpful and got us to our feet, as well as checking that we were okay. Drunk Tosspot was manhandled back to whence he came and we got back on with the job of enjoying ourselves. It wasn’t long, however, before Drunk Tosspot returned and was being a proper dick. This time we managed to get the security to spot him and he was yanked out of the crowd and dragged away. There may have been pointing, cheering, and chanting as the security hauled him off.
Meanwhile, Muse were in fine form and seemed to be really enjoying the gig. It felt relaxed and easy, and time was absolutely flying. 'Isolated System', from The 2nd Law, was a chance for drummer Dominic Howard to show off his skills but I was disappointed to have what felt like a very shortened version. It’s a great track and it would have been excellent to experience it in full here. When the drums really kick in it’s amazing live so it’s a shame it was cut short. 'The Handler', from Drones, was one I’d been hoping to hear and it was a cracker when it arrived. What a bassline. The requisite sing-alongs were done with 'Supermassive Black Hole', “Starlight”, and “Resistance” and were great fun with such a huge crowd (I think the capacity of the fan zone space is 90,000 but haven’t been able to pin an accurate figure down as yet).
As a great fan of the rhythm section I was especially delighted to hear/see 'Munich Jam', where Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard belt out a killer jam on bass and drums. My attention was diverted a few times as there were giant balloons bouncing around the crowd, but nothing really could have distracted from that much. 'Hysteria' is another favourite of mine with that delicious bassline, and it was followed perfectly with 'Time Is Running Out'.
Matthew Bellamy’s vocals really shone with 'The Globalist' – the epic three-part track from the tail-end of Drones. The soft, lulling vocals are brilliantly contrasted with the heavy rocktastic second sector of the song, complete with face-melting riffs, before it sinks back into the softness again. The song was enhanced by a beautiful visual animated sequence behind the band, and topped off with the extraordinary sight of the Eiffel Tower sparkling with thousands of lights. Chris Wolstenholme seemed to be battling a technical issue with his guitar in the start of the song but it was soon rectified and all was well.
Encore was three songs – 'Mercy', 'Uprising', and 'Knights of Cydonia', featuring the Ennio Morricone intro 'Man with a Harmonica'. The latter two in particular are a fantastic way to see out a gig, both filled with energy and opportunity a-plenty for singing/shouting along. Say what you will about Muse they know how to put on a show, and the devoted among us never get tired of being able to jump and sing with them, and I suspect you’d have to be missing part of your soul if you weren’t caught up by that show, in that location.
Over far too soon, it was a joy to see these guys again, and only magnified by the amazing setting. A whirlwind 24-hour trip to Paris isn’t something easily indulged in normally so I’m incredibly grateful the stars aligned for me this time around.
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