this is not the first time they had a private gig in Philly. I remember there was another one in 2008 or something like that. I think they have some sort of special relationship with that radio station, just like with KROQ.
I remember reading an article writtend by the people who run that earlier gig admiring how professional Muse are.
I wasn't exactly instrumental to their live show or anything, so I don't know how many details I have that will interest you, but here goes... [and holy shit is this long so if you don't care about Muse you should probably not think about reading it]
It was one of the biggest and best shows I had worked at the time, although this particular performance was rather small. I was working at a recording studio and we had a huge tracking room that used to be a film studio soundstage so there was lots of power for lighting and audio gear. The owner had installed a PA system and a relatively small stage so that the room could double as a 200-300cap venue. We didn't book bands, but we would rent the room out for private parties or CD release parties or whatever.
At the time, we had an awesome alternative rock station here in Philadelphia called Y100. They had a series called "Y100 Sonic Sessions" where they would work with a band's label to have them play a private show to 100-150 contest winners and it would be recorded and mixed for the radio station to play exclusively. The label would foot the bill for this session in return for the radio station playing the band's single a few more times a day for the week or so leading up to their concert in town. We actually did quite a few of these for several radio stations, until Sony got busted hardcore for payola in 2005(?) and the labels realized that technically these kinds of sessions could also be called payola (in essence the label pays money, band gets more radio play) and they soon disappeared completely.
Anyway, most bands would come in with acoustic guitars and bongos or something and do a quick little acoustic set in the afternoon plus maybe some QA, then head off to whatever venue they were playing that night to do their soundcheck for the real show. Not Muse. Muse was in town a day before their show and they wanted to do this little session "for real." This meant bringing in all of their own audio and lighting gear that they would normally setup in the 3000cap places they were playing. Something like 12-16 moving laser lights, 2 huge mixing consoles, all of their set pieces for the stage, etc.
This led to some problems. Our studio was located at the end of a small cobblestone alley in South Philadelphia and they had 2 buses with a trailer on each. These obviously could not make it down the alley and even if they did they'd never get back out. We ended up renting a pick-up truck to hitch the trailers to and get them into the alley, where we'd then unload them and spin them back around by hand to hitch them back to the truck and get them out of the alley. Luckily we had a lot of people who volunteered their help because they were really into Muse.
I think it was about a 9 hour setup from showing up with the first trailer to getting the show started. Their crew was really awesome and efficient, which helped a lot. But they were also a bit ornery that day. Their lighting guy/production manager beelined straight into our studio manager's office upon arrival, shut the door behind him and said "Where can we get some blow?" Our studio manager was straight-edge, borderline macrobiotic vegan and at a Christmas party when she claimed to have never even tasted alcohol I actually believed her, so she told them there was no way we were getting them any coke. I don't think it was the band that wanted the coke, I think it was the crew, so don't quote me on saying Muse is a bunch of cokeheads, and I don't know how much this actually contributed to their being grumpy and ornery all day, but it did happen.
So on to what I was able to glean about their technical setup. First off, the guitar and bass amps you see onstage are dummy cabinets, or they were on this tour. They were huge and had machined metal grills on them, but they didn't have speakers in them. The actual cabinets were nice combo amps, but nothing very special and were placed offstage and mic'd there. A 2x12 and 4x12 don't look very impressive on huge stages so they had props. Those microphone stands are totally custom made as well and are pretty fucking awesome. Both the guitar and bass player had some sort of MIDI pick-ups in their guitars and ridiculously complicated pedal boards (also custom made I think) that allowed them to trigger many of their spacier patches and arpeggios. For this performance the stage was too small to accommodate their keyboard section (which I think was something silly like 7 keyboards), however I didn't notice any sounds missing from the songs they played. The keyboards were maybe actually used in other songs for Matt to go solo on or something, but the arpeggios and spacey backing tracks that Muse is famous for were not reliant on them, they all came from rack mounted samplers triggered by their guitars or from prerecorded tracks. Because their crew did almost all of the wiring and all of the mixing, it was impossible for me to see exactly how all this was setup. I ended up mostly helping the lighting guy run all his cable and figure out the power situation for what he was adding to our modest lighting rig. An average 3-piece band at this level would probably be 24 channels at the soundboard maximum, usually more like 16, and like I said these guys were well over 40.
Their soundguy was pretty fucking incredible and I remember him talking about how they might try and tour with a 5.1 system in the future and how he would set it up. He had that room sounding better than anyone else I ever heard and honestly he is the only reason I wouldn't just outright say I am sure many of the vocals are on tracks. With an absolutely perfect compression scheme and microphone choice (I think they sing through Neumann KMS105s) plus really good microphone technique on Matt's part I think it's possible to have his vocals sound that uniform at so many distances from the mic, but it's something I've never seen anyone else do anywhere near that well.
Now I've been waiting to drop this piece of info for a while... all this setup was for 4 songs and 100 people. Now granted, this was the best sound I ever heard in that room with that PA and it was sure as hell the best light show that ever entered that building, and the band was absolutely amazing. But it still felt a little crappy to work for 9 hours setting it up, then watch a show for 30 minutes, then spend another 4-5 hours tearing it down and loading it out.
As far as dealing directly with the band, I'm not sure I ever actually spoke to them. One of my best friends who had introduced me to Muse a couple of years earlier was able to come down from NYC to see the show and he ended up being the lucky one. He brought some weed and at some point they asked for weed in the green room, so I sent him up to take care of them. I think he smoked with them, although it might have been just the crew, but he got to hang out with them in the green room for a bit. The band were all really soft-spoken, nice, polite guys. After the show when we were tearing down my friend started fooling around with some songs he was working on with an upright piano the studio had and they hung around and talked some shop for a little while. That pretty much made his year.
All in all it was a great experience, although it was probably the hardest I had ever worked in the music business in one day. At the time. In the last couple of years since I've moved out of recording and entirely into concerts I've been lucky to work a day that was under 12 hours (I just set my personal record of 23 consecutive hours on the clock last weekend), but Muse was my first taste of that kind of production, and it's fair to say that seeing a show like that from the inside out certainly motivated me to get more into live production.