Boston Gig

Boston Herald, Jul'03

Placebo, at the Paradise, Boston, Thursday night.

Placebo offers the real thing with insight and driving sound 

July 5, 2003

by Linda Laban

The third stop on a new American tour brought the London-based rock band Placebo to Boston on Thursday night for a sold-out show at the Paradise. The group's core - singer and guitarist Brian Molko, bassist Stefan Olsdal and drummer Steve Hewitt - was augmented by a pair of musicians tucked at the back of the stage to add keyboards and guitar.

Molko, his hair cropped short and his makeup elevating an ordinary face into something special, wore black, as did the rest of the band.

It's a good thing Placebo's music is so intriguing, because there was no chat, just a couple of banal statements that ran from ironic ("Now for something cheerful"; it wasn't) to obvious ("This one's a slower song"; it was).

But, for all that, Molko is no fey, cool frontman. He played guitar like a thoroughbred rocker, his body carried away by electrified passion. His nasally authoritative voice was utterly effective, too.

Placebo's music seems to offer many things for many people: Rockers, punks, gays, Goths, new wave fashionistas and, of course, students, lapped it up. Yet, the songs are too pop to be rock, and vice versa, too electro to be emo and, without making sexuality an issue, too glam to be entirely straight. At one point, Molko sang about being everything, pleasing others at the cost of oneself.

Mostly though, while the music struggled against it, Molko sang about inevitability.

In the stunning electro drama "English Summer Rain," he mused, "Always stays the same, nothing ever changes"; in the swooning, catchy "The Picture," he added, "I can't stop growing old." And in the euphemistic druggie ode "Special K," he sang, "There's no escaping gravity." Simple truths, poignantly told.

Alongside such thoughtfulness there was abandon: Big, buzzing guitars marked "Bitter End" and a ferocious beat drove "Slave to the Wage," co-written with Pavement's Steve Malkmus and Steve Kannberg. Molko's insistent witty monologue made "Pure Morning," an evocative number that surely notches Placebo a place in rock history, a graceful, noble mantra of cultured calm against endemic rage.

New rockers Ambulance arrived too late to open.