Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

Muse / Royal Blood / The Warning

The National Bowl, Milton Keynes
Sunday, 25th June 2023

Enormo-gigs have not featured largely on my radar for a long time now. I haven’t been to an arena show either since early 2019, so it was quite a surprise to be offered a chance to see Muse play one of their massive outdoor shows – particularly during an extended period of excellent weather! It’s been nearly 40 years since I went to a comparable event, the return of Deep Purple Mk.II at Knebworth in 1985. That bill saw eight bands on the bill; Muse brought along two support acts, with the music starting around 6pm – which was just as well given that temperatures rose to 30 degrees in the afternoon; a dramatic switch from ’85 where the heavens opened and sliding around in the mud was the order of the day.

These large-scale events just don’t appeal to me, partly due to the vagaries of the weather, but also the scalping of a captive audience, potential sound problems in a windswept field, rubbish views from miles away, a lack of intimacy, logistical problems of moving vast numbers of people… the list goes on. That said, I have admired Muse since first hearing their debut album nearly twenty-five years ago. Their ascension to stadium megastardom pushed them beyond the reach of my enthusiasm, so the chance to see them at long last via a spare ticket was too good to pass up, the bill also including Royal Blood and Mexican sisters The Warning.

It’s a pleasant 40-minute stroll in the sun from central Milton Keynes to the National Bowl, the steady flow of people swelling as we get nearer until the queueing starts. Despite being well organised, it’s never going to be easy to squeeze 60,000-plus people through a limited number of entrance bottlenecks. Once inside, it’s time to queue again for a very necessary beer as it’s still hot, and having been successfully skinned it’s into the Bowl with the first band already on.

The Warning

The Warning are mid-way through their short set by the time we find a vantage point – and they’re certainly kicking huge amounts of Culo, as these Mexicans would probably say. The three sisters from Monterrey are ten years into a career that started when the eldest, guitarist Daniela Villarreal Vélez, was barely into her teens. They’ve grown up doing this, as some of the videos available online show. So far they have recorded three studio albums, all featuring the trio of Dani with younger sisters Paulina (drums) and Alejandra (bass).

The Warning, photo by Jez Rowden

All three sing and there’s no doubting that they’re a fearsome and talented live act, brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Their hard rocking power trio sound sees dextrous playing in all departments, and they know how to work a crowd. They easily pick up plenty of interest, assisted by an excellent sound and the huge screens to the sides of the stage which convey plenty of detail from the individual performances.

Unsurprisingly, their tightly controlled half-hour set heavily features songs from latest album Error, but there is also time for a highly effective and showstopping rework of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. Dani’s vocals have power and grit and there’s real depth as the three of them work together beautifully. They end with a rousing and high-energy take on Evolve from the new album and successfully leave the audience ready for the rest of the evening. This is one hell of a band, charismatic, entertaining and hugely skilled, and I definitely want to see them again, but probably somewhere smaller.

Intro 404
Enter Sandman (Metallica cover)
Daniela Villarreal – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Paulina Villarreal – Drums, Backing & Lead Vocals
Alejandra Villarreal – Bass, Backing Vocals

LINKS: Website | Facebook

Royal Blood

Another band that I’ve wanted to see for a long time, the swagger is apparent from the start as Royal Blood arrive to the taped intro of Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby. Theirs is a style being explored by a growing number of acts, but Royal Blood have successfully managed to expand the (on paper) simple set-up to fill arenas of this size and fully engage huge audiences with ease.

Royal Blood, photo by Jez Rowden

Fresh from their set at Glastonbury, they’re on point and ready to deliver. With a back-drop bank of lights taking up almost the full width of the stage, once again the screens are key to project the duo (plus supporting keyboard player) all the way to the sloping bank at the back of the Bowl.

Royal Blood, photo by Jez Rowden

Unlike The Warning, Royal Blood largely eschew new material. With fourth album Back to the Water due for release in September, they only select one song, the impressive Mountains at Midnight. Instead, they spread the love throughout their more familiar catalogue in a nine-song set which starts with the killer one-two of Out of the Black and Come on Over from the 2014 self-titled debut. It’s a punchy 45-minute set that evolves much like their career to date before returning to the debut to close with Figure it Out.

Royal Blood, photo by Dean CavillRoyal Blood, photo by Dean Cavill

They absolutely nail the performance with confidence and bravado, the screens showing bassist and singer Mike Kerr’s use of pedals to build his unique sound, effectively modulating the tones between bass and guitar to give the band its dynamic aura. The wonders of technology are key to the overall picture, but behind it sit some great chops. The mix of sounds and in-your-face delivery are often intoxicating, making for a compelling and entertaining experience. Kerr is an enthralling player with a fine voice, making the combination of roles look effortless. Thatcher is inch perfect with his timing, the sound giving his drums the right amount of heft against the often harsh sounds emanating from Kerr. On occasion, he leaves his kit to wander to the edge of the stage and encourage the audience to greater enthusiasm, before strolling back to his position just in time to pick up the requisite barrage of beats. His drum solo is a nice diversion, if a little workmanlike, and he deserves his moments in the spotlight.

A band that more than lived up to my expectations and another that I would like to experience at closer quarters.

Out of the Black
Come on Over
Lights Out
Trouble’s Coming
Mountains at Midnight
Little Monster (inc. Drum Solo)
How Did We Get So Dark?
Figure it Out
Mike Kerr – Vocals, Bass Guitar
Ben Thatcher – Drums & Percussion
~ With:
Chris Moyles – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

LINKS: Website | Facebook

Two bands down; two thoroughly enjoyable sets. It’s a high energy start and the expansive arena is proving to be a good venue all round, with excellent sound and a particularly relaxed vibe from the horde of fans just thrilled to bits to be there. With the sun getting lower, the evening is still warm and everything is going swimmingly. Expectation for the headliners draws more punters towards the front, like moths to a particularly bright flame, and available space reduces drastically so we decide to ease back a bit to find a spare bit of grass and enjoy the atmosphere. Such a spot is located, just beyond the speakers about half-way back – and within easy access of an ice-cream van, which is a new gig experience for me. Sitting in the sun is an excellent way to spend the half-hour before the arrival of Muse, presaged by a brief sound check, during which the quality of the thumping drums suggests – correctly – that the sound would be excellent.


Muse have nothing to prove. After twenty years of playing stadiums, they know how it’s done. Right from their earliest recordings, they have consistently tried new things and confounded expectations, pushing everything to eleven and being gloriously over the top, managing to take their audience with them. Behind it all lie the skills of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard. Bellamy’s talents take the most plaudits, which is easy to understand given his facility on both guitar and keyboards plus his extraordinary voice, all backed up by a charismatic stage presence. However, it’s the chemistry between him, Howard and Wolstenholme in an unbroken bond that makes Muse work, the obvious trust keeping them moving forward on a grand scale.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

This tour, for ninth album Will of the People, started in April last year, 75 shows played so far with the final dates scheduled for early October. The band are, therefore, well drilled and on top form, the near two-hour set giving the audience plenty of all the things they could reasonably expect. As Muse have managed to maintain throughout their career, everything is pleasingly overblown, fourth man Dan Lancaster taking on a full shift to cover additional keyboards, guitar, drums and vocals.

Other than their debut, all the albums get a look in on the setlist, a greatest hits affair that allows a thread of songs from the new album to work their gritty magic, grand scale storytelling in a truly prog mould. From the off, the show doesn’t let, full of interest and energy with each set-piece skilfully framed. There’s scope for the unexpected, with frequent costume and staging changes covered by video presentations that successfully make the show seem even bigger.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

With the band hooded and masked, they begin the set with the title track from the latest album, a flaming Will of the People logo completing the dystopian effect. The sci-fi nature of much of the set is accentuated by the lighting rig in an otherworldly sweep as the show evolves, the screens bringing the audience closer to the detail.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

With Bellamy clearly keen to try out all the guitars in the shop, changing from one particularly sexy example to another after almost every song, there are some unexpected choices, touch-pad instruments (including a particularly neat double-neck bass) conveying the electronic heart of Madness. Wolstenholme confirmed what a fantastic bassist he is time and again, coming to the end of the runway that extends into the crowd to deliver the iconic bass opening to Hysteria, from 2003’s Absolution.

Muse, photo by Dean CavillThe heavier edge of Psycho leads into a roof-raising Bliss as Bellamy displays his vocal range. Resistance adds electro to the mix while Won’t Stand Down takes in hip-hop and epic stadium rock with a side-helping of thrash metal, a huge mirror masked figure revealed as the focal centrepiece for much of the set. Compliance delivers smooth synth rock, culminating in a cascade of streamers being fired over the audience, Bellamy skipping across the stage with his guitar on his back as they drift on the light breeze to be snatched from the air or become decoratively entangled in the speaker stacks.

Muse, photo by Dean CavillSo many musical styles are delivered, the audience lapping them all up. A stately Verona sees an array of confetti cannons elegantly fill the air, while Time is Running Out is launched on another masterful bass riff, the crowd singing the chorus as the lights start to become more effective as dusk draws in. The delicate atmospherics of Isolated System moves into the strings and beats collision of Undisclosed Desires – ’80s synth pop writ large, with all three band members playing from the front of the runway. Then, just to confound further, Bellamy takes to the keyboard for a Gothic burst of Bach’s iconic Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, the organ continuing into You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween from the new album, the central mask bursting into life to project infamous faces from horror and sci-fi.

Muse, photo by Dean CavillFollowing Madness, it’s time for one of the undoubted singalong highlights of the night, the anthemic We Are Fucking Fucked, which becomes more prescient by the day. Its in-you-face Baroque glory, complete with Queen-esque choral fills, is all the better for having the chorus bellowed out by tens of thousands. The bleak vision of the future is accentuated by flames and followed by The Dark Side to hammer home the point.

The crowd-pleasers continue with Supermassive Black Hole, the mask now gone and the lighting rig fully mobile to fine effect. It’s a visual as well as musical feast as Bellamy makes good use of the runway, adding unfeasible guitar squeals before the riff to Plug in Baby blows the virtual roof off. The mood is beautifully calmed by Bellamy’s solo piece Behold, the Glove, the soundtrack nature perfectly suited to the flow of the set, and then the bangers continue with Uprising, Bellamy clad in a jacket of animated lights.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

The classical textures return for Bellamy’s flourishing piano Prelude before the main set ends with an exhilarating Starlight, the crowd again fully supporting the vocals. The place goes mental as Muse leave the stage, but they’re soon back to finish their work. Simulation Theory Theme / JFK unveils a new horned demon centrepiece, and it’s now dark enough for the lights to be fully effective, massed flames giving a hellish vision as the band kick into a thumping Kill or Be Killed, followed by the galloping Knights of Cydonia, with the epic and fitting Morricone harmonica intro from Wolstenholme, picked out by a spotlight at the front of the runway.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

With the three band members ending the show clustered around Howard’s drums, it’s been an astounding set, musically superb and visually stimulating, the astute pacing maintaining the excitement throughout.

These massive events are never going to be my cup of tea. The weather uncertainties, scale and logistics as everyone shuffles towards the exits all making me think twice about it all.

Muse, photo by Jez Rowden

That said, this was a fantastic experience; the weather was magnificent, the crowd warm and beautifully engaged. All three bands were superb and put on a fantastic show with not a single dull moment. I was very glad to see two bands who I’ve wanted to see for ages and one new one who had me hooked immediately. The five-and-a-half hours was a complete blast and even the nigh-time stroll back to the hotel was very pleasant.

What more could you want?

Intro: Chant [Video]
Will of the People
Drill Sergeant [Video]
Won’t Stand Down
Kill or Be Killed [Video]
Thought Contagion
Interstitial ‘Parkour’ [Video]
Time is Running Out
The 2nd Law: Isolated System
Undisclosed Desires
Toccata & Fugue in D Minor [intro] / You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween
We Are Fucking Fucked
The Dark Side (Alternate Reality Instrumental Version)
Supermassive Black Hole
Interstitial ‘Driving’ [Video]
Plug In Baby
Behold, the Glove [Matt Bellamy song]
Prelude / Starlight
~ Encore:
Simulation Theory Theme [Matt Bellamy song] / JFK [Audio]
Kill or Be Killed
Knights of Cydonia (Ennio Morricone ‘Man with a Harmonica’ intro)

Matt Bellamy – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Chris Wolstenholme – Bass, Backing Vocals
Dominic Howard – Drums
~ With:
Dan Lancaster – Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion, Backing Vocals

Muse – Website | Facebook

[With huge thanks to Dean Cavill for getting me there and for the use of his photos to complement mine – Thank You Deano!]