Times Of London "Wembley Arena", 2004

by David Sinclair

WHILE successful rock'n'roll bands often stagger on until they are forced to stop for one reason or another, Placebo have engineered a tactical withdrawal from the tour- album-tour treadmill with un-usual precision. Their current compilation, Once More with Feeling: Singles 1996-2004, has drawn a line under a four- album career that has been spent mostly flying beneath the mainstream radar, despite accumulated sales in excess of five million copies. And on Friday they finished their latest tour with the last show they intend to play until 2006. 
So there was a mood of celebration in the air as the London- based trio not only reached home turf but also the home straight. Singer Brian Molko wished the audience love and respect. 
In return his fans at the front showered him with rubber ducks - the result of a radio interview in which Molko declared his enthusiasm for playing with such objects in the bath. 
They were joined during the encores by Robert Smith of the Cure, who duetted with Molko on a monumental version of Without You I'm Nothing and then steered the band through a more gentle rendition of the Cure song Boys Don't Cry. But the jubilance of the occasion did not dispel the incipient menace and sleazy romance which are at the heart of Placebo's songs. 
With his jet-black hair teased into a futuristic mullet and his eyelids plastered with kohl, Molko had an otherworldly androgyny pitched somewhere between goth and glam. His high, slightly querulous voice rang out with a lascivious urgency as he sang his tales of pleasure, pain and deviant sex -although not always experienced at the same time. 
Meanwhile a lighting rig that looked as if it might have been part of a Nasa space programme reconfigured itself after most of the numbers, picking out the group in harsh whites while preserving dark pools of shadow around them. 
Although cast in a supporting role, the bass player and guitarist Stefan Olsdal and the drummer Steve Hewitt made a weighty contribution to the attack. The sound was further fleshed out by two semi- detached and unacknowledged musicians who supplied discreet touches of keyboards and bass from the sidelines. 
Concentrating for the most part on the singles, the band navigated a set that ricocheted from the speedy art-rock of Every You Every Me to the electronica of a new song, I Do, and a startlingly slowed-down rearrangement of their first single, 36 Degrees, with a power and passion that was spectacular to behold.