As bands from the UK come to America they find themselves down a few rungs on the tour ladder, playing clubs instead of stadiums, bars in place of mega summer festivals. On the flip side, a young band can score an opening spot and harness the crowd of the headliner. Muse and the Zutons find themselves in those two positions as they hit Webster Hall last night in NYC. The Zutons are the newer kid on the block, a five-piece from Liverpool, they have a charm and musicianship that sucks you in. Think "Dr. John meets the Beatles" as directed by David Lynch. Front man Dave McCabe is a roly poly amiable chap - part Viking, part hippy, he bangs on the timbale on one song, he plays the "hooter" on another. I was hoping they would break into "And We Danced" by the Hooters, but it didn't happen. The rhythm section of bonzo drummer Sean Payne and Russell Pritchard and lead guitar Boyan Chowdhury are the perfect emsemble. When the band breaks out the 5-person harmony, watch out. Crosby Stills Nash and Young stizz. They played the big tracks off their debut record like "Zuton Fever", "Pressure Point" and "You Will You Won't" to a receptive packed crowd, The acoustic numbers showcased McCabe's golden rasp of a voice and their traditional '70s American, honest song writing style. What the Zutons and Epic need to exploit is their firecracker of a saxophone player, Abi Harding. Guaranteed every guy in there had a crush on this peppy lass. More Abi, less deli trays for the singer!
Where the Zutons played up the humble, "thanks for having us", low key vibe, Muse were set to blow the roof off. Apparently no one told the lighting guy they are no longer playing UK stadiums because the pulsating lighting package was giving epileptic seizures to the front row. These guys want it large and they sound large. Starting off on piano, singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy was the calm before the shred, I mean storm.
To say the guy sounds like Thom Yorke, it's obvious but it's a compliment. The soaring vocals and phrasing are all "Fake Plastic Trees" but the band has no interest in being Radiohead. Bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard are picking up where some nu-metal bands like Korn left off, dropping the hip hop element in lieu of '80s rawk. They look like they grew up on Stryper and Metallica, then one day Jeff Buckley blew their minds. Let's face it, Muse love over-animated drum fills, finger tapping and arpeggiated scales. Dude, we know you know how to out-noodle Yngwie, no need to show us every tune. But tunes they are. "Hysteria", "Falling Away With You", "Stockholm Syndrome", "Butterflies & Hurricanes" and "Muscle Museum" are all high octane, tour de forces. The live show almost makes the studio stuff pale in comparison. Finishing their set with the why-isn't-this-a-bigger-hit-? "Time Is Running Out" into "Plug In Baby" shows where Yorke and co. squandered their alt rock capital on Kid A and Amnesiac and Muse took their sound to the next, post nu-metal phase. Step aside Fieldy, you're irrelevant. Just look at their crowd. All the guys who were teary eyed to Staind's "Been A While" a few years ago are the new Muse fans. A kinder, gentler meathead. That being said, these guys are huge overseas and America is just opening their eyes to the powerful stage show of Muse. Maybe they won't sell millions of records, but fans buying tickets to the live show will not be slowing down anytime soon.