Closing out Day Three of Madrid’s Mad Cool 2022 with a career-spanning set packed with fire, giant stage props and a musical glove, Muse might be well into their third decade as a band but they’re still gleefully wheeling out evermore overblown whistles and bangs. From an opening ‘Will of The People’, during which the trio emerge sporting silver mirrored masks backed by a flaming anarchy-esque sign, their customary brand of theatrical rock histrionics is out in full force. Nods to fellow rock royalty are peppered throughout, with Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot, AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix riffs nestled between tracks, while a gigantic, looming mask stands tall at the back of the stage, revolving eerily around.
If the (fairly legitimate) stereotype of Muse is essentially of a bunch of space nerds given a limitless budget, then tonight’s setlist embraces the pomp whilst also throwing some curveballs. On one hand you have a track called ‘Behold, the Glove’, during which Matt Bellamy dons a robot arm imbued with some sort of keytar - so far, so brilliantly ridiculous. On the other, you get a smattering of deep cuts and B-sides that show the band aren’t just about big, showy moments. Between all this, however, lies an undeniable catalogue of hits - from ‘Hysteria’ to ‘Time Is Running Out’ to a gigantic one-two punch of ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ - that could slay any field, without any more tricks needed.
Earlier in the afternoon, Haim pull out a different set of quirks, integrating an array of semi-skits between their brand of LA pop rock. A staged mic check introduces the three sisters to the stage by name, while later bassist Este fakes a phone call from “Frederico who I fucked yesterday in the porta potty” before descending into the crowd for ‘3AM’. If the humour can come off as a little forced, then the crowd lap it up regardless and, come ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Steps’, the love for the sisters is tangible.
Over on the Region of Madrid stage, it might be meltingly hot but no one is cooler than Phoebe Bridgers, who rocks up in a black suit and shades to a heavy metal intro track. It’s this juxtaposition of humour and musical catharsis that has, of course, made the singer’s star ascend so steeply in recent years, and both elements shine through in spades today. Backed by a simple stage set of cut-out mountains and a video screen that flicks through pages of a pop-up storybook, ‘Kyoto’ is introduced as “one for the dads”, and recent track ‘Sidelines’ as a love song, its yearning refrain playing out as the sun sets.
When Bridgers runs through the front row, high fiving various sign-wielding superfans, she gives the mic to one who uses the moment to shout for “women’s education and women’s rights”. “Trans rights are being taken away in America right now - fuck that shit, it’s horrible to watch from a distance,” picks up Phoebe before shouting out a series of charities including Planned Parenthood and The Ally Coalition. She ends, fittingly, with ‘I Know The End’, as the storybook sets on fire to a huge shredding finale solo. Bridgers might make some of the most heartbreaking music around, but she also knows how to wrangle a good time.
Drafted in last minute to replace Queens of the Stone Age, Incubus are a sturdy choice for Mad Cool’s rock-favouring crowd, the likes of ‘Drive’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ greeted ravenously, but it’s alt-J who close the night having come out of their shells more than ever before. Maybe it’s their 2am stage time or maybe the sun’s just gone to their heads, but where the trio are normally fairly stoic on stage, tonight they seem visibly excitable - grinning throughout, instigating crowd clap-alongs and putting on a true ‘show’.
The tricksy time signatures and idiosyncratic lyrics of ‘Interlude 1’ into ‘Tessellate’ will never not make for curious festival fare but over the past decade alt-J have turned these settings to their own image, sparking sing-alongs to songs about triangles and eyebrow-raising sexual metaphors. Backed by visuals of cherry blossom, rising water levels and a slowly-rotating moon, their set is in turns beautiful and all sorts of fun, an encore of ‘Left Hand Free’ and ‘Hard Drive Gold’ showing they can turn their hand to a more straight-forward banger when they want to as well.
Visit our Mad Cool hub across the weekend for all of our Mad Cool 2022 coverage.
Get your copy of the latest issue
More like this
She sees out her four nights at Brixton Academy with a bang, and a new song.
A round-up of the biggest and best new music this week.
Their new album ‘Will Of The People’ lands next month.
The track was written for the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s ‘Conversations With Friends’.
Records & Merch