"Bristol Gig Review"
Sessions magazine issue 3
Bristol - Colston hall
by Dave Marsden
18th Feb. 1997
The gig was sold out months in advance. But then it was supposed to be at the Bierkeller; a sweaty; dingy little club which probably holds about five hundred and charges too much for watered down lager. Then Virgin must have realised what a bloody goldmine they were sat on with Placebo, and on the strength of the band's first top ten single, (and properly a promoter with pound signs lighting up in his eyes), the gig gets moved to the cavernous enclaves of the Colston Hall.
Surprisingly there are empty seats around the place. Instead of over priced lager there's Ice Cream ladies.Old-fashioned, cinema style ice-cream Ladies. A sure sign that the average pop fan these days must be about nine and a half.
I get a seat in the balcony. A balcony whose angle of response is such that the stage looks like one of those awful pocket television sets suspended somewhere between my knees; a sensation that should be reserved for Wembley, or the NEC....
Which is exactly the place which Placebo appear to be heading, or may even want to be heading. Mauve spots rove spontaneously across the crowd to funky loops and backbeats for a good five minutes after the lights go down, blinding to the point where the blob of fluid colour are bouncing behind my eyes. I hardly even notice the three sombrely clad figures take the stage, illuminated only by the faint sheen of a beer can in one of the figures other hands.
A red Stratocaster appears from nowhere and Placebo launch into Come Home. Molko's stood stage right and there's a good twenty feet of empty stage between him and Olsdal, but the taut prosaic rhythm - only given melody by a lifting vocal during the verse, seems to fill any physical void.
It may be the acoustics of a venue more used to playing a host of Shite TV personalities pretending to be funny, (Jim Davidson's just been, Mike Reid
next month), orchestras And ermm, Hank Marvin, but Molko's voice sounds a bit insipid. He's punctuating monosyllabic lyrics with too many breaths over the chorus. But then maybe it's deliberate. Bionic and 36 degrees suddenly sound far more fluid. And as he starts pogo-ing, knees locked together over the intro, the first four rows helplessly follow him in perfect time.(those lucky bastards who actually got to stand up thanks to the venue actually deciding to remove a few seats so that the kids could enjoy themselves
In his mollifying transatlantic drawl, Brian Molko mumbles something unintelligible about Ice Cube before proclaiming "Placebo say hang on to your IQ".
My companion intimates that he should stick to singing an stop gabbing off between songs. (I guess that means she doesn't think much of his speaking voice.) A snatch of conversation from a girl behind me; the words "sexy"' "voice" and "when he speaks" are barely audible over his guitar. I assume she's talking about Brian.
IQ is where Placebo genuinely shine. A new breed of music for the jilted generation: " Got a head rush/ in her pocket/ two rubbers two lubes and a silver rocket"; "Every day my eyes will open wide/ gotta get high before I go outside/roll anther for breakfast/ Burning clouds around and in my solar plexus", set against a backdrop of fluid rhythm and melody. But then it's time to rawk. Brick Shit house, (as in "He was built like a ...),is firmly at the other end of the Placebo spectrum- An accelerating, thrashed out. Speeding, hate song. Then Allergic to thoughts, and we finally get to see that all those weird guitar shapes on the album aren't just studio smart.
With both hands, Molko uses his guitar as a tool (pun intentional). And like a curious adolescent he's meddlesome enough not to be satisfied playing riffs and chords when there's far more cool and exciting possibilities to explore. Bruise Pristine brings us back to familiar territory, and Teenage Angst, somewhat predictably, brings tumultuous applause from the thousand evening session hungry listeners.
"This is a song which has no electric guitars." The Crawl is said composition with only bass, a minimal backbeat and, (from the depths of a shrouded side stage), an enormous keyboard or twelve. The cleaner the sound the, the more sumptuous is Brian Molko's voice; an attribute which continues, even through the compression mic into Lady of the flowers, a dazzling angst-ridden lament to fucked-up relationships.
Of course , then it's Nancy Boy which closes the show proper. I can't help the wry smile which turns the corners of my mouth skyward at the thought of this impish, Bowie's Rebel Rebel incarnate, flaunting ideas of sexual ambiguity against stifling'normality, (It's the others who are fucked up after all...), towards the nation's youth twelve times a day on national radio, MTV, and TOTP/Chart Show.
As the lights stay low, pre-encore, I glance around me at the audience, trying to get a handle on who it is exactly that Placebo attract. I come to the conclusion that, at last there's no ABC category when it comes to pop fans. Possibly because Placebo are hard to define themselves, are they rock? Metal? Indie-schmindie? Gay? Does it matter?
"This is a song about being in the wrong place at the wrong time..." (Aren't all pop songs?). Burger Queen is another new Placebo offering and constitutes encore number one. "Slightly bemused by the constant rejection/ came into this world by caesarean section/he never gets laid just gets his injection." Which goes onto rhyme with "can't get an erection" somewhere along the line. (Come on Hut, release it as a single, let's see where that line is!)
"Hey you!" shouts Molko about a dozen times, brandishing his outstretched index finger theatrically at various individuals in the front few rows, no doubt elevating himself to God-like status on at least twelve Teenage (Angst) bedroom walls in the process.
They think is all over as the band leave the stage for a second time and those mauve lights rove around the crowd again. But no. Even a band with only two singles and an album to there name are entitled to a second encore. Evil Dildo, an instrumental, could quite conceivably have come out of some perverse rock opera. Molko and Olsdal have swapped instruments. Though it's dark and the strobe is so disorientating that the only way you can tell is by the way the fret-board on the bass dwarves Molko more than his guitar.Seven minutes into Evil D and lighters are held aloft all around the venue . Perhaps that arena-status is closer than I thought....