There’s something so common about going to a Muse show. The experience has a way of inducing a unique catharsis. For one thing, it’s hard to ignore the incredible feel of it all, from the mesmerizing laser light show to the rousing pyrotechnics and otherworldly visuals.
But beneath the (literal) flash and frills lies something much more intimate. Fans hug, fists clap, and in spurts, the audience takes on the role of lead singer as they roar the lyrics to their favorite records.. In those moments, complete strangers are part of something much bigger than themselves because there’s a community between the lines of your favorite song.
“Nothing beats being in the crowd with music fans when you don’t know what the setlist is,” says self-proclaimed superfan Helen Rose Tooth. “When they start releasing the songs and releasing the rarities, and everyone comes together, you are captivated by the atmosphere.”
rolling stone met Rose Tooth and a host of other Muse die-hards at a secret homecoming show in Exeter, Devon. Hosted by Jim Beam as part of their Welcome Sessions series of events, the intimate gig brought Muse superfans back to the Cavern, a cozy South West England venue where the band first played for some of his earliest supporters: friends, family and classmates.
When asked about her favorite song to watch live, it only takes Rose Tooth a moment to land on “Definitely ‘Knights of Cydonia'” as an answer. Tom Kirk, a longtime friend of the band, doubles down on the sentiment. “Knights of Cydonia” is the ultimate fan song. I don’t think Matt even needs to stretch his vocal cords for this because the whole crowd in the arena or the festival [is] just bellow it. It’s an electric force of people who are completely in tune with the moment as if nothing else exists.
It’s easy to hear why the record elicits a range of emotions from Muse devotees. The song opens with a haunting harmonica solo from bassist Chris Wolstenholme. Although everyone in the house knows what’s to come, anticipation builds like a roller coaster getting closer to its first big drop. Then, at the perfect moment, Matt Bellamy sends the audience into an auditory freefall once he steps in with some crackling strumming from his electric guitar.
When you sing along to lyrics that speak to you, that feeling you get is irreplaceable, and it’s much deeper when you look to your left and see another fan sharing that communion. There is a bond created there, an understanding that the words that had such a pronounced impact on your life struck a chord with someone on a similar frequency. At this time, a potential stranger feels more like a kindred spirit.
This belief that you truly feel connected when you belong to a community is rooted in Jim Beam’s two-century history of bringing people together, and that feeling is evident when talking to fellow Muse superfan, Hannah Chandisingh. “You’re all in the same boat,” she said. “And when they come out with these really powerful songs, when you realize that you and the person next to you are both in tears, [there’s this sense that] “I don’t know you, but I love you.”
It is a feeling that can transcend language and borders. Danny Yeates has vivid memories of his first Muse show outside the UK. “I went to Madrid for a VIP experience in 2016,” he recalled. “The fanbase was so different. This guy literally stuck me by the collar, and [we] just started singing. Usually in the UK it doesn’t really happen that way. The cultures are very different, but we are here, and the universal language is Muse.
Muse frontman and songwriter Matt Bellamy describes this lightning in a bottle as equal parts method and magic. “It’s hard to describe the emotions you feel on stage. Spiritual, I guess some people might describe it that way,” he says. “It’s something from another world. Very connected with thousands of people.
Early on, Bellamy realized he had to write his lyrics through the prism of inclusivity. “Over the years, [I realized that] you know what? I can really play with that and start writing songs using “we” pronouns instead of “I” and sing about myself. “The Uprising” was the big moment where I was like, “I’m going to change this song.” Instead of it being about me, I’m going to be about us,” and I kind of deliberately wrote the lyrics with that in mind.
This community spirit can be just as stimulating for the performer as it is for the audience. Muse drummer Dom Howard speaks warmly of this synergy. “It’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “It’s kind of this really reciprocal feeling of you enjoying what you do and them enjoying what you play. It’s a wonderful thing where you’re very in tune with each other and aware of what everyone feels.
In the mind of a songwriter, this reciprocity is a catalyst for growth because feeling understood can be an invitation to push the limits even further. Bellamy observes that, “there’s a vulnerability in songwriting because you’re digging into how your personality works and the expressions and experiences you’ve had,” he says. “There’s a kind of confidence that emerges over time when you realize how many other people in the world can relate to that. And over time, it actually gives you a little bit more confidence to maybe be dig deeper.