The Arts Desk "Placebo, Brixton Academy", Sep'10

28 September 2010
by David Cheal


My, haven’t they grown? In the several years (perhaps even a decade) since I last caught Placebo live, they’ve gone from being a scrawny three-piece with a somewhat thin sound – for much of the gig, I saw, they didn’t even have a bassist on stage – to become a properly equipped rock band with six on-stage members: here, on the first of two nights in south London, the band consisted of the regular trio, plus three side-persons on guitars, bass, keyboards and violin. They made quite a noise, blasting out satisfyingly slabby slices of sound.

And their stage show is impressive these days, too; strips of video screens showed a barrage of jittery and, at times, seemingly random images - among them a seagull on a beach, a young woman putting on some make-up, some words such as “self love”, some mugshots of people looking as if they’d been arrested, some ships, an Indian woman dancing, and occasionally even the band themselves. Plus, there were lights that blazed and pulsed, as well as confetti and balloons. It was quite a thing.

It’s nearly 15 years since Placebo first caused a stir with their powerful-yet-poppy tunes and lead singer Brian Molko’s sexually ambiguous good looks (to begin with, I remember there was even an “is-he-a-girl-or-a-boy?” debate), and today they maintain a substantial and loyal following. Diligently they have worked away, touring, releasing, playing festivals, acquiring a set of fans who, judging by this show, would not exactly throw themselves in front of a bus for their heroes, but nevertheless hold them in high esteem. What Placebo offer in return is the vicarious thrill of a glimpse into their apparently seedy, decadent and rootless world (Molko was born in Belgium of American-French-Italian-Scottish descent), an entrée into their turbulent and complicated lives which seem to be spent going through crises and drinking and taking drugs and having desperate and slightly pervy sex and perhaps pausing occasionally to stub out a cigarette on a bedfellow’s naked flesh.

Although as a live band they have clearly moved on, their music is, in essence, exactly the same as it was way back then: churning, insistent, heavy enough to merit coverage in Kerrang! magazine and yet poppy, too. It’s a sort of hardcore bubblegum. Molko’s voice, meanwhile, is their trump card: he’s not a great singer, but it’s instantly recognisable, an androgynous, sardonic drawl.

So anyway, for this show they delivered a succinct 90-minute blast of impressively cohesive music, opening with their 1997 breakthrough single “Nancy Boy” and incrementally ratcheting up the levels of noise and energy until it became almost overwhelming. Molko was dressed modestly in jeans, waistcoat and white shirt, while the towering Swede Stefan Olsdal wore a silver lamé suit. The drummer seemed to be dressed entirely in tattoos. The non-band band-members, meanwhile, wore white, as if to accentuate their non-bandness.

I was certainly shaken by Placebo, and sometimes stirred, too: “Every You Every Me” was really quite sensational; ditto the dark and disturbing “Meds” and the fantastically titled “Ashtray Heart”, from last year’s Battle for the Sun album (now available in a "redux" version, whatever the hell that means). Also, I’ve seen a million balloons descend onto audiences in my gig-going lifetime, but none has ever had the words “Death and fear” printed on it, as was the case during “Trigger Happy Hands”, one of the rare moments when a Placebo song peeks out from the bedroom at the world of unpleasantness beyond. And well done to them, too, for not coming back for umpteen encores: they knew exactly when to call it a night. Short, sharp, noisy and dazzling, this was great to watch, and a blast to listen to. 
Bravo, Placebo.



Source: theartsdesk