MUSE, Shepherd’s Bush Empire – Evening Standard, 19 Feb 2013

The three forlorn party balloons being patted around the audience were the clearest indication that this was no ordinary Muse show. The charity War Child’s pre-Brit Awards concert is usually star-studded, but always stunt-free. So for a band that employs more lasers and explosions than the average doomsday scenario, this was like going into the shark tank without a cage.

With the only special effect being singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy’s spiky hair, his trio had to rely on their songs. Thankfully, they hadn’t skimped in this area.

Aside from the soaring love song Starlight, it’s doubtful that many Muse compositions would work in an acoustic campfire singalong. Here the guitar was as rampant as ever. It crunched and growled amid marching drums on Supremacy, and acquired an almost electronic groove on Supermassive Black Hole. With six albums behind them, Bellamy, drummer Dom Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme have rarely stuck to a formula. Panic Station was a surprise with its crisp disco funk. Follow Me had a little hint of I Will Survive about it.

The band seemed more at ease than usual. Even unshowy Wolstenholme took a turn at lead vocals on the rare gentle moment, Save Me.

“This is nice,” said Bellamy, claiming to be enjoying being free of all the faff. “What song do you want?” he asked, not something you can do when the set list is tied to big-screen videos and confetti showers.

Unlike past War Child shows, aside from rowdy support band The Vaccines there were no special guests. But Muse have always been out on a limb, outlasting early Radiohead and Jeff Buckley comparisons to build something uniquely theirs. In intimate surroundings, the likely winners of tomorrow’s Best Live Act award showed that they can even make a minimal evening memorable.