Muse / Nothing But Thieves
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney 16/12/17
Review: David James Young (Facebook/Twitter) | Photos: Peter Zaluzny (Facebook/Twitter)

London hopefuls Nothing But Thieves have been dealt the unenviable task of playing in front of an audience that is solely invested in the other band on the bill. Given the circumstances, they fare pretty well – at 30 minutes, they don't overstay their welcome; and a handful of moments elicit some cheers from the front end of the floor. Although not quite comfortable in the frontman role, vocalist Conor Mason still has an impressive set of pipes on him – his numerous runs up to the higher end of his range are enough to stop a fair few punters in their tracks across their time on stage.

What a shame, then, that the instrumentation backing him is generally so nondescript in nature. Were it not for Mason's distinctive soprano, the band would be nearly impossible to pick out of a police line. It's that generic style of Americanised, slickly-produced, leather-jacket rock that's perpetrated by the likes of You Me at Six and Young Bloods – call it indifference rock, if you will. They're not a bad band by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly don't put in a performance that will convince you to head for the merch desk and lay down a 50-dollar note for one of their t-shirts. After all, bands like them are dime-a-dozen – or, to convert to their currency, 12 for 10p.

Even though they've long been the kind of band that has dressing rooms bigger than most venues, Muse are still treating their two Australian shows on this tour as stripped-back and relatively-intimate. It certainly feels a lot smaller than their full-scale operations from the outset, with the lighting rig much lower to the ground and only a small block of LCD backdrops being used. Still, you can't remove a band like Muse from outer space entirely – they make their grand entrance on the back of “Dig Down,” with frontman Matt Bellamy wearing glow-in-the-dark shutter shades á la Kanye West circa 2007. What ensues is a real mixed bag – a confounding middle ground between a straight-up rock show and the Pink Floyd-esque operatics the trio have become best known for.

When the focus is solely on the music, let the record show that Muse play and sound as good as they did when their classics came out. Take, for instance, the early hat-trick comprised of “Hysteria,” “Plug-In Baby” and “Stockholm Syndrome.” There's an electricity there that would otherwise have been lost in the translation of a high-concept stage show – especially given the core trio are playing within such close proximity to one another, a rarity for them. By means of contrast, there are also parts of the show that allow their ham-fisted, Alex Jones-friendly politics to come into play – during “Take a Bow,” Bellamy reaches his hand out over green lazers while the screen behind him reads “CORRUPT” writ large in silver all-caps. What's meant to be compelling and dramatic instead serves as a reasonable toilet break.

Yes, inconsistencies are abound whenever Muse take to the stage. That's just the kind of band they are. You love them, you hate them, you love to hate them. One thing you can't ever do, however, is consider them boring – however you feel about their more recent output, you're certainly not sitting on the fence. Besides, when it comes down to the grand finale of “Knights of Cydonia,” any crossed arms have been unfolded and every silent cynic is singing the unmistakable refrain. Muse remain a fascinating musical paradox, but nevertheless a compelling one. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.