MUSE. Photos courtesy of the Sziget Festival.

Sziget 2016, Days 4 and 5: Muse Give Another Legendary Performance, Bloc Party Bring the Dance

For this tour, Muse didn't prepare an inverted pyramid of televangelical visuals, but rather a somewhat more toned-down scenography.

When you make the decision to throw a week-long festival, even more so when you work exceptionally hard to make it one of the greatest cultural events in the world, you face the same challenges every work of art epic in scale and scope does — act two may drag and leave your audiences perplexed and bored. However, once again, the Sziget Festival Management prove they are worthy of their status by booking Muse to keep audiences busy and lay the groundwork for the final act. Matthew Bellamy, Dominic Howard and Chris Wolstenholme, typically, were happy to oblige by giving yet another earth-shattering performance in front of the largest crowd since the festival hosted Rihanna on Day 0.

The official Day 2, in reality the fourth day of the festival, kicked off to warm, sunny weather, and thousands of cheerful Szitizens, who roamed the Island and Sziget beach more than in the first three days. The first Main Stage performance belonged to Hungarian rock legends and Sziget veterans, Quimby, who only drew a crowd of local fans for front-row singalongs; otherwise it had been clear from the start this would be a rock(ish) festival day, and by the time Bring Me the Horizon take the stage, a 15,000-strong audience gathers. The British metalcore band, who found mainstream success by breaking away from their deathly harsh sound in the previous five years justify the transition to a major label they have made with their latest and most critically successful album, That’s the Spirit. Their sophomore major label release is also by far their mellowest, deftly combining almost mockingly gentle vocals with furious growling, and playful synthesizer cadences with excruciatingly hard drumming. Their frontman, Oliver Sykes, is more than capable of stimulating their metal fans, and the energetic performance is aided by his vocal dedication and a slew of recent hits. Sykes commitment is particularly well-received during the performance of their hit singles from the past three years, namely “Go to Hell, for Heaven’s Sake”, and “Shadow Moses”. Visceral performance culminated with a trio of beloved, powerful hits, “Can You Feel My Heart”, “Throne” and “Drown”. My only complaint against the setlist would be the absence of “True Friends”, but the band’s apt and dedicated performance more than makes up for petty wishes on behalf of the fans.

Day turns into evening with a majestic, surreally beautiful show by Sigur Rós. Creeping dusk and literally thousands of lampoons and lights diffused all over the trees, took the ambiance to a whole new level during the Icelandic trio’s captivating act. Now, Sigur Rós is the kind of band you root for, the kind of band a genuine music aficionado wants to go mainstream and change tiny bits of collective melodic psyche with its sublime, idiosyncratic approach to music. They, more than most other names, are the kind of band you want to see make it to the co-headlining slot on a Main Stage of a major music festival, especially knowing they have been working more than 20 years for it. Frankly, it’s amusing even to say “the kind of band” in the context of Sigur Rós, since there is no band like them operating in the same galaxy with mainstream names. Frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto manages to be both dreamy and macabre without ever sounding dull or irritating, and his bowed guitar paradoxically meshes the apocalyptic with the gently ambient with little effort. The only problem is – a hungover, predominantly adolescent rock audience doesn’t care for the non-literal verses in Hopelandic, and Sigur Rós turns out to be too static and dreamy for a bunch of weekenders hungry for a melodic earthquake. Unfortunately, Sigur Rós’s amazing show was closely followed by only several thousand people in front of the stage, who literally shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for Muse. Even with the thousands of “passive” viewers lying in the grass between the trees in the background (major kudos for the folks who brought their own foldout chairs and the guys who inflated a couch), the reception was weak at best – a shame. The band deserved a lot more.

Nevertheless, as soon as Sigur Rós were over, a stampede of some 40,000 people rushed to the stage, anxious about the trio they knew would scratch their itch for grandiose choruses, epic riffs and earth-shattering singalongs. For this tour, Muse didn’t prepare an inverted pyramid of televangelical visuals, but rather a somewhat more toned-down scenography, a series of panels to project the visuals of the terrifyingly manipulative world Matthew Bellamy (aptly) thinks we live in. Given the Devon trio are currently touring for their new album, Drones, the 90-minute headlining slot kicks off with the “Drill Sergeant” intro. As the transfixed audience repeats “Aye, sir!” after the concept album protagonist, who finds himself a pawn at the hands of what we can only assume is the vague, ominous “system”, Bellamy, casually sporting a black tracksuit and his trademark “Mirror” Manson guitar, launches “Psycho”. Much to everyone’s delight, the second song is “Plug In Baby”, an old crowd favorite. Bellamy is undoubtedly one of the most gifted singers/piano and guitar players alive and working in rock today, and he uses it to his band’s advantage effortlessly. At 38 already a veteran virtuoso, Bellamy may have had more than 15 years of mainstream success with his band, but still retains his human affability and childlike earnestness in every fiber of his performance. His guitar antics and the band’s exhibitionist rock show are met with incredible joy at every turn; still the essence of Muse’s incredible performances lies not in their virtuousness or their music’s behemoth scale – it’s all about their genuine love of playing, their love affair with their instruments, their gratefulness for every ovation they receive. Bellamy’s love of his music and his audiences cannot be faked nor can it be contained. For this, the band is greatly rewarded for every performance on their lengthy world tour.

The 17-song set features mainly their newer hits, and funnily enough, though their last three albums were not met with critical acclaim, the singles seem to be as potent as their early work, if not even more so. “The Handler” is the best received track off of Drones, and Bellamy gets to show off his stellar guitar finger work here. “Hysteria”, “Starlight” and “Supermassive Black Hole” bring the much-needed blast from the not-so-distant past and remind us of how much fun the band was having prior to focusing on concept albums and infuriating the critics and a smaller part of their audience. Nevertheless, like I said, even if their newer material fails to live up to the incredibly high standards they have set for themselves, live the new singles are as good as any. Virtually every song was received with delirious applause and heartfelt singalongs. “Time Is Running Out” makes for a tectonic chorus toward the end of the show, but it is the encore that really leaves everyone breathless. “Uprising” and “Mercy” may not be as hysterical as some of the band’s older singles, but they boast monstrous choruses, and the sweaty, tearful mob don’t even catch their breath before the stupendous finale that is “Knights of Cydonia”. Luckily, with this one, Bellamy is only fooling around with the lyrics, so hearing some 45,000 people scream “no one’s going to take me alive” is both uproarious and oddly satisfying.

Just when we were about to get some air after another great Muse performance, it was time to shuffle on to the A38 tent, where Róisín Murphy, Ms. Rock Star, was performing. The former frontwoman of the brilliant and greatly beloved British trip-dance duo Moloko, now is a 40-something mother of two, is living proof that age is but a discriminatory number. The beloved Irish chanteuse is as beautiful and quirky as ever – for my taste even a tad too much – but her own music is on par with that she had once been making in Moloko, and the large crowd is pleased even when she performs tunes in Italian – “Ancora Tu” is a gem, indeed. It would be unfair not to note that the songs which command crowd’s attention the most are those from her Moloko days. “Forever More” sends everyone dancing, and “Pure Pleasure Seeker”, saved for the end, generates a great applause.

After a marvelous Saturday, Sunday was the weakest day for the Main Stage. At A38, Hungarian electro-rock band Brains, who seem to draw a little too much inspiration from Pendulum, arranged for a manic, inarticulate dance party, and the audience had been left sweaty and in need of more dance by the time the headliners, Bloc Party, arrived. Kele Okereke’s mercurial band, who seem to have changed several music genres in the past decade, hosted a beautiful alt-rock gathering in a full tent, Throwing in Björk’s “Big Time Sensuality” as intro to “Song for Clay” is a bold move, but Okereke is a charismatic frontman who quickly builds a great rapport with the audience, and a wide array of genres and tunes keep the spectators dancing for the duration of the show. “The Love Within” is thir foremost synth pop single, and invokes the most candid dance experience of the weekend, while “Helicopters” choppy riffs elicit the most screams.

As A38 upholds its “best” venue reputation at Sziget, the Main Stage hosted Tinie Tempah and David Guetta on Sunday. English rapper does his best to wow the many teenage girls in the front, who do their best to wow him back with their jailbait lower back movements, and the synthetic, Auto-tuned party is brought to its climax the moment French entrepreneur and occasional superstar DJ David Guetta took the stage. Since my parents raised me not to say anything at all if I can’t say anything nice, I will say this much – Guetta is among the best businessmen in the world, phenomenally able to sell his products to the highest bidder for the greatest profit. Also, the huge crowd had a great time jumping and fist-pumping, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters, right?