Ever wonder what it’s like to go on one of those band scavenger hunts? Here’s a first-person account.

Artists are always looking for unique ways to engage fans in different ways. One of the most intriguing have been the scavenger hunts that send fans looking for clues in all sorts of weird places. Nine Inch Nails, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Twenty One Pilots, and a number of others have launched this sort of promotional rat holes.

Muse is part of this crowd, too. Mary Stanton-Anderson, a Muse diehard (67 shows and counting) took part in something they call The Fellowship of the Bike. – AC

This is my narrative of the adventures of a bunch of Muse fans at the last stop of the Muse tour in Austin. I expect it to turn out rather verbose: I don’t do concise. And anyway, I need the catharsis, and to record it all before time can erase all the memories.

It had been pouring in Seattle when I met up with Jordan at the First Class check-in desk. (Gotta love those mileage reward tickets!)  We learned of the special security line for first-class passengers and had to convince the TSA screeners there that we carried valid First Class tickets.  As we journeyed south from SeaTac, rising above the cloud layer, we circled around Mt. Rainier, which looked close enough to touch. The flight attendant was convinced that Jordan, in his usual rock-band tee, pinstriped suit jacket, and torn jeans, was actually Jamie Kennedy.  A brief layover in Dallas, then on to Austin and Muse!

As we waited for Chanel/Satan and the MuseMobile (their car) to pick us up, Manuella/ocean5, my East Coast MuseMom counterpart, called and excitedly related something about codes, a bike, and Houston. It took a few minutes to sort out the convoluted tale of messageboard Musers in England who had received and deciphered encoded emails from the elusive Qua, spelling out the location of the prize: a bike. 

After a quick drive back to downtown Austin, surviving threats of “I will cut you!” shouted by an irate driver who disapproved of our meandering style on the highway, we checked into our hotel, chosen both for reasonable rates and a location about five blocks from the Austin Music Hall.  Manuella then called back with more info.  She had gone online to confirm the existence of the Gerald Hines School of Architecture at the University of Houston, the purported location of the MuseBike, and MapQuested the route from our hotel to the university.  Sharing this with the rest of the group, the roadtrippers Satan/Chanel, canuxfan44/Brian, and hunnytodabee/Jess, plus Brian’s friend and my travel companion Jordan (famous for his bootleg video clip of “Debase Manson’s Grog” and shouted “Cover me! Cover me” on same)—–we all looked at each other for about two seconds and said as one: Let’s go!

So the Five, later to be known as the Fellowship of the Bike, emptied the trunk of Chanel’s car (MUSE OR BUST in huge letters on the rear window) in anticipation of some precious cargo. We piled into the Camry, stocked up on nutritious snacks and filled the gas tank (Texas gas is CHEAP! Thank you, GWB.) at a local minimart, and set off at dusk for Houston about three hours away

About 40 miles from Houston, Manuella advised us that there had been a post on the “New Anagrams” thread, calling for any Houston-area Muser to PM the poster for directions to OUR PRIZE!  Now with a renewed sense of urgency, and cursing Brian, Jordan, and Jess for spending a half hour getting food in the minimart, we sped (and I mean sped!  Damned construction detours and Texas State Patrol cars.) on to Houston, finding the university at about 11:30 PM with Manuella’s ongoing navigational help via cell. We parked behind the School of Architecture building, and the five of us piled out of the car and ran madly around the building in search of a bike rack.  And there…on the opposite side of the building…was a rack…with…one bike.

I could tell by the screaming from the guys, who had reached it first (give me a break; I’m old!) that WE had found The Bike, and found it first!  Brian quickly turned the tumblers of the lock to the numbers determined from the encryptions and …the lock opened!  The MuseBike was OURS! 

Of course at this point we were all shrieking like banshees and giddily jumping up and down, prompting a passing Campus Security guard to inquire suspiciously if we were all quite drunk. We convinced him, perhaps due to my “older and wiser” presence, that we weren’t drunk, just excited.  We all took turns riding the bike around the plaza, and a couple of passing students took some group photos of The Five, with a sign acknowledging Manuella as honorary member of the Fellowship.  All the while, Jordan recorded the event with video on his digital camera.

Our next task was to somehow secure a mountain bike in the trunk of the Camry for the three-hour drive back to Austin. Lacking proper tools to disassemble the bike, we managed to get most of it in the trunk, tied down with some twine I found on the architecture building loading dock and a small roll of duct tape (of course, duct tape!) cadged from the Austin minimart. As Chanel and the guys loaded up the bike, I called TheEnd, my local Seattle alternative radio station, and related an exclusive account of our escapade to Harms, DJ par excellence and major Muse fan.

Back on the freeway, now with no urgency and more mindful of details like speed limits, we retraced our path toward Austin.  In the middle of the flat Texas bleakness, just past the turnoff to Flatola (I’m not kidding), we heard the unmistakable flumpeta-flumpeta-flumpeta of a blown tire.  The right front—good thing Chanel was minding her speed, or the Fellowship AND The Bike could have ended up in the ditch.  As the group surveyed the damage, I called AAA; a truck should be available in 45 minutes or so. 

By now it’s 2:30 AM; we had planned to be at the University of Texas campus, 30 miles from Austin, by 11 AM to try to win mtvU Meet and Greet passes.  With a renewed sense of urgency, we undid our jerry-rigged bike tie-down job and extracted the jack and spare from the trunk.  Even with two crankings on the tire iron, one of the lug nuts would not budge. 

So for no apparent reason, we all began to dance about in the middle of the lonely highway, “mobile phones” open and glowing like so many fireflies, screaming out the lyrics to “Blackout” and effectively flagged down the tow truck approaching from the opposite direction.  Using his pneumatic tire iron, the tow truck driver succeeded in removing the remaining lug nut, mounted the spare tire, and promptly broke off three of the lugs.  Crap; we’re screwed.  Too risky to drive 45 miles on the highway on two lug nuts; so he mounted the disabled Musemobile (“MUSE OR BUST” was never so prophetic!) on the tow-truck platform.  Fortunately, the cab accommodated –very cozily—five passengers, and we rolled into the hotel parking lot in Austin at about 5 AM.  With sleep now a top priority, we retired to our respective rooms and collapsed.

The adrenaline rush from the night’s events kept sleep at bay for a while, so I set to writing the gift card inscriptions for my contributions to a gift basket for the band.  Chanel deserves credit for the concept of a treasure hunt for Muse with encrypted clues, reinforced by Tom Kirk’s PM pronouncement of “Brilliant!” when Chanel let him in on our plans.  Compromised by fatigue, my words probably made little sense.

Revived by seven hours of sleep (in a row!) and a hot shower, wanting to assure that our treasure hunt would come off as planned, and also wanting to arrange a group photo of the Austin Five with the bike and the band, I did something a bit “cheeky.”  Phone book in hand, at about 1 PM I started calling the high-end downtown hotels (Hyatt, Radisson, Four Seasons) asking to be connected with Mr. Kirk’s room.Third hotel, Four Seasons, success: a sleepy Tom answered.  I had prematurely interrupted his rest after a night of exploring Austin clubs with the band.  (Sorry, Tom; you know I love you!  I’ll wager that he registers at hotels as Mr. Plotkowitz on the next tour….) I excitedly told Tom that we had successfully recovered the Houston bike and asked about photo ops and our planned treasure hunt for the band.  Somewhat noncommittal due to uncertainty about the timetable for the day’s events, Tom suggested that we try to get their attention when they arrive at the venue at about 5 PM.

At about 2 PM I walked the quick five blocks to the venue, the Austin Music Hall, a converted warehouse, where I took over placeholding in line from Jess so she could go back to the hotel for a nap and shower.  She had gotten to the venue by 10 AM after very little sleep, and secured our group’s place in line, second behind a personable and very sunburned lad with pale blond hair, and in front of aur0rabells/CJ, whom we had talked to on line prior to traveling to Austin. Her friends emiko45/Lianne, Falling Away With Kiernan/Kiernan, and yasthebruin/Yasmina, from Ohio, Missouri, and Paris (France, not Texas!) respectively, had gone out to Texas State University to try to secure Meet & Greet passes. 

As the line grew, we whiled away a couple of hours chatting and meeting Musers from all over. I finally got to meet Lianne, Kiernan, and Yas when they joined our group near the head of the line. They had succeeded in winning a pair of meet-and-greet passes and decided that Yas, who would return soon to France, and CJ, who had held their spots in line all day, would be the ones to go.  Chanel arrived on The Bike, and eventually, Brian and Jordan strolled over, after several polite motherly calls urging them to haul their sorry asses out of bed.  Shortly after 5, the band’s motor home pulled in to the area beside AMH where the crew buses were parked.  A couple of security guards stood between the buses and the line of fans, separated by a few sawhorse barriers.  We saw Tom and the band leave their bus and head toward the loading dock area at the back of the venue.  Thinking she could catch the eye of one of them (and unfortunately urged on by me), Chanel rode TheBike past the barriers toward the buses.  A burly security guy felt it necessary to flying-tackle her from behind with no warning, bending the bike frame and causing some nasty bleeding scrapes to Chanel in the process.  Then the cretin guard had the gall to complain that he had hurt himself.  Happy twenty-fourth birthday, Chanel: a flat tire, a disabled car, and now this.

A group who had won the chance to play poker with Muse in a radio station contest were escorted into the building, while the rest of us resumed our wait in line.  After a while the poker players emerged and soon we could hear Muse’s sound checks begin, including “Sing For Absolution,” “Space Dementia” and “Microcuts.” Needless to say we were thrilled to think that we would hear these at the concert.  Six o’clock, the designated hour for the Meet&Greet, came and went as soundchecks continued, easily audible to those of us out front.  I asked a venue security gal to please let Tom Kirk know that we were out front with The Bike, hoping of course to be let in with the M&G people for our group photo.  A bit of confusion and some tears ensued when CJ was not let in with the M&G group, as her name was not on the list; fortunately this was quickly cleared up and she went in with the rest.  Inside, Matthew confided to Yas and CJ that two more bikes remained hidden in Austin!  After the return of the M&G’ers, we waited a while more out front with The Bike, now wondering where we would put it during the concert.

At this point Tom came out to the crowd in line, to my amazement looking for me.  He brought something for me from the band, a small gift that means so incredibly much to me: a yellow Absolution tee with Chris, Dom, and Matthew’s autographs, inscribed with “To Musemom”.

I gave Tom a copy of our encoded treasure hunt clues, and all too soon he went back inside.  But by then it was 7 PM, time to open the doors of the venue.  I gladly endured the pat-down search to enter, knowing that I had TWO cameras, mine and Jordan’s, in the bottom of my purse, beneath a false passage in the lining.  (I may be old but I’m crafty!). We raced down to the rail, securing our positions front and center.  I spotted Bjorn Agren from Razorlight at the band catering area beside the stage and said hello; he remembered meeting me in Maryland, where Brian and Jordan played Nintendo with him at the mtvU village.  An hour’s wait, then 45 minutes of Razorlight’s set passed quickly enough, made a bit more interesting by watching Chris, Dom and Tom watching Razorlight from the wings.  Then the roadies set up the stage for Muse as our pulses quickened almost unbearably.

The recorded music stopped after what seemed an eternity of waiting, and Muse commanded the stage, in every sense of the word. They launched straight away into “Debase Manson’s Grog”, by now familiar to us due to online bootlegs; Matthew attacked his guitar like a man possessed.  Dom grinned through the entire set, at one point taking the mike and telling the crowd how much fun they had had in Austin and thanking the audience for their response.  The usually immobile Chris (except for his whiplash neck motion) was replaced by a very animated Chris, clearly enjoying himself and moving all around the stage.  Two or three times Matthew ventured out onto speaker stacks near the front corners of the stage on either side, playing his Mansons like a madman within inches of the fans. 

As usual closer “Stockholm Syndrome” moved into an extended outro, Matthew disappeared off to the side of the stage to probe our psyches with otherworldly guitar effects.  Meanwhile, Chris and Dom gleefully began to trash Dom’s kit, Dom stacking the drums and Chris spearing them mercilessly with his bass.  No doubts that this was the end of the concert and of the tour.

At times during the performance the crowd surged forward, crushing us in front against the rail; it was all we could do to maintain a bit of space to breathe.  A kind security guard (apparently not necessarily an oxymoron) gave a cold bottle of water to Lianne, who didn’t let a nasty case of tonsillitis prevent her from coming all the way from Ohio.  One particularly pushy and rude guy behind us was rewarded with the sole of my left shoe in his groin; you’re welcome, idiot.  I may look like a mild mannered mom, but I will stand my ground to see Muse.  I guess I’m getting too old for all this, but when I finally cross that line, just put me out of my misery!  Battered and sore doesn’t matter when you are exhilarated beyond belief by the concert performance of a lifetime; I felt exhausted, drained, yet strangely peaceful.  Muse will have trouble besting this performance, but I am confident they will find a way.

Afterward, a moderate crowd remained outside the venue, dwindling to about thirty after a rain shower soaked us.  We fetched TheBike from Kiernan’s car, still hopeful for a group photo with Muse.  We saw them go into their motorhome, and shortly after they strolled out to the fans behind the barrier, signing souvenirs and chatting briefly.  When they reached where we stood, I showed them TheBike but there was too large a crowd to assemble us for a photo.  Preoccupied by the whole anagram/encryption/treasure hunt phenomenon, I completely forgot to thank the lads for my Musemom shirt until Dom mentioned it; I can be such a dolt.  Chris mainly just grinned, and lovable Dom gave me a warm hug. 

Finally Matthew came over, in his coat with the fur-lined hood that he had worn in LA in December.I asked him if he had had time to figure out our coded message.  I had intentionally made it fairly easy, knowing that they would have limited time to decipher the location of our gift baskets before the show.  So instead Of “Yes, I figured it out”, Matthew blurted out in typical manic Bellamy fashion: “extendedstayamericaaustintownlake600guadalupestreet….FRONT DESK!” 

At about this point someone with the band arrived with our gifts and took them into the bus, so at least we knew they received them.  They included, among other items, several CD mixes painstakingly selected for Muse by Jess, Jordan and Brian; some books of speculative fiction which we thought might interest Matthew; some premium Seattle coffee for Tom; and from me, a bottle of 1978 Baron Phillippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet wine—-an excellent vintage year! 

From here, my tale slips into anticlimax.  As the band made it down to the end of the line of fans, they returned directly to their bus, despite saying they would take that elusive photo with us.  Alas; but we still love them, understand their need to celebrate the end of the tour, and we still had TheBike!  A few of us stayed for a while near the venue, and the younger members of the Austin Crew were eager for more clues to the whereabouts of the other two bikes.  When asked if the “A” on the bike seat was a clue, Matthew had admitted enigmatically that it was.  But no setlists were distributed after the show as they had been at other venues, so we had little to go on in our quest.  Jordan took off on TheBike to explore downtown Austin.  Tired and dreading a 4:30 AM departure for the airport, I returned to the hotel for a shower and a brief nap.  Kiernan kindly drove Jordan and me to the Austin airport, then headed out on her 12-hour (well, 14-hour, but that’s her tale to tell) drive home to Missouri.  We slept through the flights, somehow managing to awaken long enough to change planes in Dallas.  My husband, ever patient with his Musefan wife, picked us up from SeaTac and listened incredulously to our escapades.  We were back in our lovely home of green trees, blue water, white mountains and wet skies, at least until the next Muse tour.

Addendum: My son Brian stayed with the Austin Crew for several days, solved more riddles with the help of our worldwide family of Musers, and found the 2 additional MuseBikes: one under a railway trestle behind the venue, and one under a bridge famous as home to thousands of bats.  Lianne has one; Chanel and I have the others.  Funny to recall those early days before smartphones, and when cameras were verboten at gigs.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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