London Brixton Academy, 22nd May 1997
by Simon Williams
7 June 1997
The little fella stage right hugs his guitar and tries with no little ability, frankly- to appear all small and coy. He glowers at his microphone and then he drawls, in a truly pan-global showbiz lilt, "Hello, we're Placebo welcome to our dream come true." Woooosh! Stars collide! A guitar implodes! And 3,500 freshly conquered Placebites plunge headfirst into a universe of sex, sauce and, like, weirdness. Type stuff.
Because, as The Undertones very nearly shouted 'Hear Comes Ann Summers!' Yes sirree, Brian Molko's "dream come true" seems to somewhat hinge upon the basic joys of plecs: he shall wield an axe of the rock'n'roll variety; he shall smoke a string of tads, all casual, like; and he shall - as is his cheeky little wont - bounce across the stage wearing little more than a rather natty dress and leopard skin tights. Scooby!
Next to Molko, unfeasibly tall bassist Stefan Olsdal broods and bends not unlike an unfeasibly tall decked - nay, wrecked - out in hardcore storm trooper bondage gear, a loin-lunging Sven Hassel nightmare ready to rock the local Conservative party Casbah. At the back, it is surely to everybody's benefit that the figure of drummer Steve Hewitt remains concealed behind all manner of cymbal-like implements, for lawks knows precisely what sex shoppers' paradise he has been visiting in his secret vampish rhythm-romping world.
Story time: flashback to September 1995, in a shadowy Spanish bar in the heart of Soho, and a young Brian Molko is saying, with the kind of authority and simplicity that broods no argument, that his band "will be bigger than The Smashing Pumpkins". An audacious statement at the best of times, and surely an insanely optimistic career plan from a band who, at the point were poised to release the original debut version of 'Bruise Pristine', whose notoriety had spread no further then beyond an admittedly cheque book-crazed A&Arse fraternity, and whose infamy knew so few bounds that the name Placebo was less well known than that of their sarf London comrades Scarfo.
Shift forward 18 months and waddyaknow? Scarfo represent the supporting cast at Molko's very own Theatre of Screams as, after a slight stutter last spring, the Placebomoblie rolls around the country one more dramatic time, zipping through the six figure sales mark for the album and notching up another hit single! With 'Bruise Pristine' and now fame isn't merely the spur, it's a blur of groupies and groping moshpits and gruesomely addictive pop choonery masquerading as mini suicide attempts.
Is it a coincidence that tis very week Marilyn Manson tottered into town and played this very same venue? Yes! Is it coincidence that Meeeester Marilyn is really called Brian? Possibly! is it a coincidence that Brian Molko thinks that Marilyn Manson are BRILLIANT?! No, sirree! See, while Placebo are more like Mansun than the Mansons in macabre mascara stakes, they are still gleefully gathering up ne devotees thoroughly wracked off with Adidas-touting footie spouting bowlheads and seeking, you know, a bit of bedsit-tastic spiritual solace. With choruses. And sensitivity.
That Molko's Miss Selfridges act doesn't topple into cabaret is primarily down to the fact that, despite their more debonair sartorial instincts this evening, Placebo never actually camp it up. Where they could well mince into Julian Clary territory, they actually recall those sensational cross-dressing crossover points of Nirvana and the Manics, because like Cobain and Wire before him, Molko has mastered the art of dressing like a girl and rocking like a complete bastard.
True, there are times tonight when you suspect that Placebo's rise might have been slightly too stellar: as magnificent as their shows were at the snuggle old Astoria a couple of months ago, the trio's stripped down paunched sensibilities occasionally struggles to fill the severely vast Academy. Equally, one gets the slight suspicion that the strife of Brian is manifesting itself in auto-pilot mid-song banter as their promotional duties grind on and on . Like hasn't he been using that scientific intro to '36 degrees' for months now? Doesn't he always embrace his guitar like that during 'Nancy Boy'?
When their good however, Placebo are a biotically fine proposition, a victorious whippet-like whirl of suss, pus and adolescent cussing. There's the headrace of frazzled singles, notably an eye-bulgingly louche 'Come Home'; there are the massively cool comedown cruisers, 'Hang On To Your IQ' and 'Lady Of The Flowers'; there are a couple of irascibly frantic fuck tha'-industry-style new models; and there is the by-now-traditional sonic bloom of the encore, wherein Stefan and Brian swap instruments and go utterly feedback-buckingly berserk because, hell, it's their party and they'll fly if they want to, right?
Placebo, then: tell 'em what you Quant, what you really, really Quant.