Kerrang "Hello My Lovelies! Placebo In Japan", Mar'01



DAY ONE

HELLO MY LOVELIES! 

Placebo frontman Brian Molkos loud, drunken proclamation is a great source of amusement to me and Kerrang! Photographer, Pat Pope. It's not, however, so mirthsome to several hundred Virgin Atlantic passengers who are attempting to sleep.

We're nearing the end of a flight from London to Tokyo and it's eight in the morning, Japanese time. The jet lag involved on such a journey is notoriously vicious - a fact which Molko clearly ignored as he consumed several glasses of red wine, one beer and, far more damagingly, some dodgy Spanish sleeping pills.

Hello my lovelies! What have you been doing?! roars Molko at the rows of eye-masked, blanket-draped travellers, who were hoping to catch some sleep in this darkened cabin.

A stewardess hurries through the aisle towards us.

You'll have to keep your voice down, Sir, she tells Brian. People are trying to sleep.

Molko slaps a hand over his mouth, looking genuinely repentant.

F**k he whispers, as the stewardess heads off. I forgot we were on a plane. I thought we were in a pub!

Sixty seconds later, however, Molko is back up to full volume as he notes that long-running Eastenders character Pauline Fowler hasnt had a cock up her fanny in 20 years! No wonder she's got problems!ä.

Brian Molko started this flight with his tour manager and bandmates in Premium Economy class, which is situated between Business and Economy. He subsequently wandered through to Business class, where he was ejected for excessively foolish behaviour.

Holding my hand, he further claims that he was caught smoking in the lavatory, but managed to avoid the fine by handing a stewardess a signed copy of Placeboâs latest album Black Market Musicâ. This claim is, in all likelihood, boozy bollocks.

As Molko's slurred babbling continues, his press officer, Jakob, starts getting worried. He warns Brian that the planeâs staff may have him arrested when we hit Tokyo.

Let them arrest me, shrugs Molko. They can rub me up the wrong way for hours on end, but they won't find anything. Then when Iâm on my way out, I'll tell them, ÎNext time you want to stick your finger up a boy's ass, just give me a call.

You get the impression that Tokyo is about to experience yet another Godzilla interface.

DESPITE BRIAN Molko's repeated insistence that we all have to go shopping as soon as we arrive, he isn't destined to join us. We last spot him standing in the immigration queue, with eyes not unlike piss-holes in the snow. He is, however, still grinning.

Brian Molko displays cheery facial features with surprising regularity, even when stone cold sober. Itâs surprising, because the frontman has long been associated with scowling, tantrums, arrogance and cattily blowing cigarette smoke in peopleâs faces.

Still, he has a lot to be happy about on this trip. Japan is a treat in many ways, whether you're a gourmet gadget-freak or simply a fan of ankle socks. Our hotel is placed in the Akasaka district, which is dominated by straight-looking business buildings and initially looks relatively un-Japanese, save the cigarette and drink vending machines that line the streets.

At around 7 p.m., band and Kerrang! convene in our hotel's bar. Shockingly, Molko has a demeanour bordering on the sheepish. He laughs as he proclaims himself ãa silly c***ä for his plane antics, while bassist Stefan Olsdal, drummer Steve Hewitt, keyboardist Bill Lloyd and diamond geezer tour manager Steve Chapman rip the piss.

I thought you were going off the rails completely admits Stefan.

I completely ignored you deadpans Hewitt grumpily. I thought Bollocks to you. I've seen it all before.

To add to Molkoâs humiliation, he has lost his wallet, containing his cash and credit cards, which we initially interpret as an attempt to avoid getting a round in. In the hotel foyer, sits a fan with spiky green hair. The band have met him before on their previous two visits to this country. Stefan strangely refers to him as Blue Boy.

His hair was blue for so long, he explains. I spoke to him earlier, asking how he knew which hotel we were in. And he couldn't understand a word I was saying.

As we head out of the bar, two smiling female fans almost eerily emerge from behind a pillar. Molko smiles back and signs their copies of Black Market Music.

They're so polite here, he grins.

PROSTITUTES STAND on most corners of Akasaka's neon-splashed streets. Smartly dressed, they hardly exude sleaze.

There's more of them than last time, says Molko as we stroll. It's quite surprising. I must admit to having a ·. Fondness for Asian people.

Despite being single right now, following the recent end of a two-year relationship. Molko claims he doesn't intend to canoodle during Placebo's Japanese stay.

Canoodling is difficult here, he explains.

It's frowned upon for Western bands to come into town and shag Japanese women. If you take people back to your hotel room, security tend to follow you up.

You've experienced this first-hand?

I have, yes. I was very drunk at the time. It necessitated a hiding-in-the-closet situation.

Disappointingly on the culinary front, we finally descend on an Italian restaurant.

Reasons Molko: If we go to a Japanese restaurant without a Japanese person, there's no way we'll be able to tell what we're eating.

A major part of the culture shock here is generated by the totally alien language, both verbally and written. Whereas in France or Germany, you might recognise part of a word and work it out, Japanese symbols and spoken word is impenetrable to all but those who have studied it for some time. While few Japanese restaurants seem to include photographs of the meal - or even three-dimensional plastic replicas - for tourists to cautiously point at.

Over dinner, conversation is casual enough, with all present raving about the movies Goodfellas and Casino. Molko asks about bands of the moment and professes a liking for Queens of the Stone Age.

Doesn't he wish he'd thought of the drug shopping-list lyrics of 'Feel Good Hit of the Summer'?

Yes, he smirks.

Another surprising thing about Brian Molko is that, unlike many people in bands, he actually seems to listen. Good God, he even asks questions based on what youâve just said. Quite remarkable.

The meal costs us - or more specifically the band's press officer, Jakob - £180. Being vaguely lubricated with booze by now, we head off in search of one of Tokyo's many karaoke bars. These things are apparently big business, but our search proves fruitless. We take tiny lifts up into one building, only to find that the karaoke bar has closed. As one set of life doors close on Molko, myself and snapper Pope, the frontman cries out to his bandmates left behind.

Don't leave me alone with the media!

The hearty laughter confirms that Molko has finally come to terms with the press and become more comfortable with it.

We enter an up-and-running karaoke bar, only to leave shortly after arriving. It seems that the place isnât communal.

ãWe would have been sitting in a roomä, explains the singer. ãThen they would have brought us drinks and we would have sung for each otherä.

To the nearest pub it is, then. And a pub it quite literally turns out to be, because - after a good 15 minutes wandering around and finding places shut - we shame-facedly settle on an English-style bar called ÎThe Hobgoblinâ.

The moment we go in, the volume of pissed-up chatter is gratingly apparent, after the relatively hushed tones of the Japanese. People are throwing darts and talking loudly, while an English football game plays on TV.

Just like home, grins Brian ruefully. We'll write this off as one of those os rubbish experiences and go after this drink, shall we?


Yes. For some reason, however, we end up staying for at least two rounds, as conversation flits through fake breasts (something about how the saline solution in them can leak), Dogme95 films like ÎThe Idiotsâ and how ex-Judas Priest singer, Rob Halford allegedly fancies Brian.

How does that make you feel, Mr Molko?
Disturbed.

WHEN WE leave the bar, the streets of Akasaka are deserted, save an endless stream of taxi cabs with no passengers in them. Weird.

Back at the hotel, Blue Boy is no longer waiting in the foyer - even hardcore fans clearly have their limits.

We set up camp in the press officer's hotel room, fish some beers from the mini-bar and commence that deeply unfortunate all-male ritual: scoring the pay TV channels for porn.

If this gets hot, says Brian, ãcan we use your bathroom? Itâll only take two minutes.

ãPerhaps we could have a circle jerkä, offers Stefan, probably not referring to a member of the veteran US punk combo.

When we find porn in the shape of an American movie named Complicity, it's of the no close-ups variety. Only the first five minutes are free of charge, but we keep it going anyway.

They should have gay porn in these rooms, complains Stefan as yet another female head bobs up and down at the bottom of the screen. ãWhat am I supposed to do with this? If I donât see a dick in five minutes I'm leaving.

More beer is drunk - thankfully we donât manage to find the spirits drawer above the mini-bar - and things get hazy as we watch a parade of interminable Japanese pop bands on TV.

This is what weâve got to compete with?äsays Brian incredulously, as the jangling nonsense drones on ···..

DAY TWO

THIS IS promo day for Placebo, which involves sitting in their record companyâs building being quizzed and photographed for six hours straight.

By 5 p.m., more cracks are showing in certain members of the band, than in others.

In a sealed-off room, the trio are facing cameras for a Japanese TV music show. While Molko is a picture of professional behaviour, Steve Hewitt is less amenable.

Asked how Placebo got together, the drummer claims that they met in a Sumo wrestling club - of course, he says, we've lost a bit of weight since then.

The most withering moment comes when the interviewer asks what made Placebo start their first tour of 2001 in Japan.

The schedule, replies the drummer blithely, before Brian sweeps in and answers the question nicely. Thank the Lord.

This evening, we commit yet another cardinal sin by drinking solely in the bar of our hotel, Placebo are knackered and plagued by the ever-present jet-lag, which makes you feel like youâre not entirely in the right dimension and guarantees waking up at around 6 a.m. The Tokyo show is tomorrow night and they are cautious about burnout.

So we sit for hours, learning that Molko found his wallet under his bed where he drunkenly kicked it, and talking about the late INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence (The last thing I said to him was F**k off you c***âä, remembers Molko fondly) and toilet doors being broken down on cocaine users.

While Molko inevitably takes centre stage even in bar chats, it's generally because he has interesting stuff to say rather than because he demands such status or talks over others. Stefan tends to sit and listen with a faint smile on his face, occasionally throwing in witty comments which sometimes get lost in the mlÎe due to the quietness of his voice. Steve, on the other hand, adopts something of a protective charade, often attempting to intimidate with a comical fixed stare. Challenge him, however, and he tends to laugh like a drain.

The topic of tomorrow nightâs show keeps cropping up. It is, after all, their first gig in months.

While I was having a pee earlier, says Brian, I was trying to remember some chords. For 17 songs.

Is there any chance at all that Placebo might be as ropy as f**k?

No way, protests Hewitt. It'll be tighter than a vicar's dirt-box.

The evening is relatively subdued. At one point, Molko succeeds in getting the bar's management to change the music.

Phil Collins makes up want to commit suicide, he explains to a smiling barman, while munching on some steak cubes. He makes us nauseous.

Collins' sonic twattery is promptly replaced by Janet Jackson's. Time for bed.

DAY THREE

JAPAN IS currently in the process of rebuilding a shattered economy - a fact that surely contributes to 365,000 citizens killing themselves every year. Stefan calculates that this works out as one per minute. It doesnât quite, but itâs scary enough. To put it into perspective. The Samaritansâ latest figures suggest that around 6,700 people committed suicide in the UK and Ireland in 1998.

Japan's people are hoping that their imminent new president will speed up the process of restoring the country to itsâ former financial glory.

Unfortunately, a knackered economy doesn't mean things become cheaper. Companies simply make less products and up their prices. This could have something to do with todayâs lunch in the hotelâs priciest restaurant coming to an obscene £500 for five people.

Oh, the decadencä, laughs Molko as dishes and bowls are brought out. ãThis could well be the most expensive meal weâve ever had.

Eating Japanese is a tricky business. Thereâs a fair degree of hesitation involved - you don't want to do the wrong thing.

Chuckles Brian, peering at wafer-thin slices of raw beef:

It's like, Excuse us, what do we do now?. There's no way I can eat this raw.

Then the bowls of steaming broth are activated, and pennies start to drop. Sensing first-timers, one of the waiters explains everything. You take the beef slices and dip them into the bowls until cooked, then into various sauces, amid a frenzy of noodles, tofu chunks, vegetables and Kirin beer.

Oh wow, exclaims Brian after his first mouthful. It pays to be adventurous, huh?

We start yapping about Japanese culture and its seedier underbelly. Foot fetishism, for a start.

Traditionally, women have been trained to curl their feet under, so a man can insert his penis in there and give himself a foot-jerk, states Molko. I've seen photographs and it's really quite scary.

Another bizarre tradition is allegedly the selling of schoolgirl's underwear from vending machines.

Iâm starting to think that they're actually an urban myth, says Molko. According to that urban myth, the more soiled they are, the more expensive they are.

As some confusing Japanese pickles arrive (which look like chocolate, but taste like fish, then beef) Placebo confess that they have yet to discover much of Tokyoâs covert perversion.

It's taken me until this trip to even notice any seediness, admits Brian. ãItâs such a barrage of visual information that itâs hard to take it all in at once. If you want to find something dirty, you have to have a Japanese guide with you, so a) you wonât get ripped off and b) you wonât end up in a dangerous situation. Iâm sure thereâs danger here, but again itâs kept very hidden. Itâs all a bit Blue Velvet.

As for drugs in Japan, you may as well stick to ginseng bottles during your stay.

There's absolutely no drug culture whatsoever over here, declares Molko. Even rave culture seems to be completely drug-free.

It's a serious offence, notes Stefan. As soon as you have that on your record, your future's f***edä.

That could well be Placebo's Tokyo mansions out of the window, then. Whatâs their drug policy in 2001?

Quality not Quantity, says Brian. What's the point otherwise? Your constitution ain't what it used to be when you were 21 and the workload's a lot higher. Theres a certain amount of satisfaction from doing what you want to do well, as opposed to falling into other traps.

At some point, pipes up Stefan, you have to start living like there is actually a tomorrow.

TONIGHT'S GIG takes place at the On Air venue, in the busling Shibuya - a district which looks exactly as you'd expect Tokyo to look, complete with all the Blade Runne trimmings besides floating cars. Placebo admirably spend all afternoon rehearsing on the venues stage. In fact, they spend too long rehearsing. By the time they take to the stage, Molko can feel his voice starting to weaken.

The 1,500-odd teenage fans present have paid £40 a ticket to see this, which only ups the pressure. Hopefully, they haven't paid an extra fee for the interesting locker system, in which kids seal away their possessions until after the show.

The big myth about Japanese audiences is that they are ludicrously reserved, but they bounce around like most audiences as Placebo hit the stage - save any kind of stage-diving activity.

As Stefan put it earlier:
If you think they're polite, wait until the gap between the songs. All I can hear is Brian! Brian! Eat me! Eat me!âä.

Can't say that phrase audibly crops up, but there is a slightly weird low-level hum in-between tracks, which some bands might misinterpret as a lukewarm reaction.

Right now, Brian Molko is more worried about his voice falling apart. It finally does - not so you'd notice, but enough to force Placebo to cut their otherwise impressive set short by 20 minutes after Pure Morning. There's no Teenage Angst or Nancy Boy.

Placebo walk dejectedly back upstairs to their dressing room, which is on a balcony overlooking the venue. There they stay for a good half-hour. Anyone connected with them who ventures inside walks out with an awkward expression on their face.

Molko finally surfaces when the seemingly fulfilled fans have left. In an hour, we will go out for a low-key meal with the gig's promoters - who might well be pissed off with the abbreviated set but are clearly men of honour. Right now, the frontman is leaning on the balcony, visibly gutted. Down below, people are clearing up the rubbish.

They bring you all the way out here, he sighs, then make you do promotion all f***king day and burn your throat out. Then, when it comes to what youâre actually supposed to be doing, you canât even play your f***ing gigä.

Bizarrely enough, this is the only tantrum Brian Molko has thrown in the last 72 hours. And, for once, you can hardly begrudge him it.