"Big In America"

Q, Mar'99

America has murdered bands in the past, but did those bands have the "spunk" of block-rocking sleaze-goths Placebo? The transatlantic trannies gird their loins against bullet-chucking rednecks, cretinous baggage handlers and oversensitive bar staff to bring you their very own Stateside adventure. Take it away, ladyboys...


Steve Hewitt (drums) : We arrive in Paris in the morning after a day off in Amsterdam and go straight to the La Bataclan venue for sound-check. The gig is great - two thousand people and the French seem to have taken to it. Brian smashes Stefan's Telecaster guitar at the end of Evil Dildo and dives in the crowd. This is always our sign of a good show. We have dinner afterwards in some Italian restaurant.


Hewitt : Up a 9.30am for our flight to Boston. Watch The Truman Show on the plane. There's a 50-year-old queen on the plane, worn by years of flying, called Jeff. He is always there for us when we need him. Americans always probe us, so we turn the tables. Jeff is a gentleman so we take him up on his offer to hear his life story.

Arriving in Boston we go straight to a motel for two hours sleep while the crew set up the gig. We are haunted by Jeffs. We then go to the venue and are on stage at 10pm US time. After three weeks in Europe our body clocks are pointing at 4am. The venue is as far removed as possible from anything we're used to. There are no lights and no dressing room. We decide to enjoy it anyway.

Stefan Olsdal (bass) : We've jetted to the US to start a round of shows and promos to back up the release of Pure Morning. We weren't really meant to go over to the US until the New Year, but some of the most important radio stations have jumped on the track and we're plunged into the nightmare scenario of trying to "break America". Radio stations are all powerful and to be successful in the States you have to play their game. Tonight is the first time on this tour that we play to a crowd that only really knows one of our songs, such are the perils of a successful radio record. We also say hello to our haven for the next few days - our giant silver tour bus. Those bunks will never be so comfortable as they are tonight...

Brian Molko (guitar, vocals) : The venue for tonight's gig - Mama Kin - is owned by Aerosmith but is a bit of a toilet. We have to play with Rancid, which we're not happy about. Everybody is a Rancid fan and so we end up playing in front of about 20 people, after having played in front of two thousand in Paris. We have serious jetlag and feel decidedly inhuman.


Molko : If yesterday's venue was the Camden Falcon, the Met CafÎ is more The 100 Club, so as you can see these are very small gigs. Tonight we play with the Eels: absolutely splendiferous, really cool old men trapped in young men's bodies. Tweed, tweed and pies, not 'alf, not 'alf mate. They are great. They even get a guy out from the audience on stage to do a sleigh bells solo during the last song. Our gig goes well, even though we can't seem to break the habit that we started in Europe of blowing the lighting rig wherever we go.

Actually, there are a lot of shows going on in Boston, so we get a chance to catch up with our friends the Fun Lovin' Criminals and we have a real funny time with them. Go to another club and hang out with Hole. Placebo haven't broken their habit of hanging out with their celebrity friends wherever they go.


Molko : Her we are on the rather lovely, high-quality American tour bus called the Prevo, which apparently is the bus that Bob Dylan takes on tour with him whenever he travels around this fine continent, and there are pictures of John Wayne everywhere and a clock on the wall that makes train noises whenever it hits the hour. We're still leaving Providence, and still high on that manic Paris show: myself and Stef were floating on the audience and I smashed my guitar for the first time in my life. It was quite a liberating feeling. I'd always had too much respect for guitars, but this was a particularly bog standard one anyway.

On reaching Albany, we check into the hotel. I walk into the room and it's basically a fuck motel and it doesn't take very long to decide that we shall not stay here. We all get rather depressed rather quickly. We got into the hotel lobby and that bar is populated by a group of people called S.O.S. - Single Outreach Society. So we're in a hotel that charges hourly rates, has spunk on the walls, with 45-year-old divorcees and singles in the bar trying to cop off with each other. We get on the phone straight away and book ourselves into another hotel.

Olsdal : We arrive at the new hotel 30 minutes later to find ourselves in a David Lynch film set - 20 miles out of town and just a mile from the airport. The hotel is some sort of redneck Butlins with a mock Market Square in the centre - but at least it is relatively spunk-free. Time for a drink!


Hewitt : Another radio gig. It becomes apparent that the venue Valentines and the "fuck motel" are run by relatives - it is a dump. Our lighting guy has four switches to play with, instead of his usual 40. Eight songs later and "Virgin Recording Artists Placebo" are doing a signing downstairs - without pens and in the dark. We don't last long. Our UK PR tells us of a man in a horrendous jumper who states categorically that "that band Placebo sucked - you couldn't understand a word they said".

Molko : Pre-gig, we're forced to pee on the highway and run the risk of getting arrested for indecent exposure, which is fun. For the first time on the tour we actually start insulting the audience, which is also quite cool.

After the show we receive the hugest pizza in the world, which was the party pizza, with about 25 slices in it. It is also in Albany that we begin the tradition of the Barry White disco party on the bus - which entails somebody on the lights, Barry White on the stereo and everybody, our entire crew and all of our entourage, dancing the blues away. Let me tell you, the whole bus shakes and shakes and shakes, and it's a much better way to come down after a show the drinking a bottle of vodka.


Molko : After the disco party on the bus, we kiss our lovely Prevo home-away-from-home her last goodbye and take a plane halfway across the US to Denver to do a show, or supposedly to do a show. When we land in Denver we turn on the radio and those lovely, lovely, huggable Sneaker Pimps are on. Pure Morning comes on straight after. So that's a good omen for the Denver show.

Denver is a mile above sea level, so it affects our drinking. You can't breathe very well and you need to drink about half as much to get pissed. So we spend a couple of days in Denver, do a bit of shopping , get recognised in the Virgin Megastore and are generally aching to play. It will be our first US headline show...


Molko : We've just got a phone call and find out that our gear has been flown in from Chicago to Denver and then flown back again. There is absolutely no way whatsoever that we can actually do the gig. People are lining up at 2pm outside the venue where we are supposed to play and I have to go on the radio and tell them all that it isn't going to happen.

A little postscript here : Steve also got the DJ of KTCL fired by saying "oh fuck, oh shit". By the time we did the radio show we were quite pissed so it seems that we've probably pissed everybody off in Denver. Serves them right for living so high up.


Molko : So now we find ourselves in the Windy City. We are hoping our gear is here and that we'll be able to play, since this is a headline show. There's a band called Kilhanna supporting us who I hear are supposed to be quite good and I'll be checking them after the shake and fake... I mean meat and greet. The show tonight is sold out.

Hewitt : After the show we go back to the hotel and then go out to a venue called House Of Blues, because we've heard a rumour that Chaka Khan and Grandmaster Flash are playing..

We walked into the club and Chaka Khan's on stage. She is fantastic. Then Grandmaster Flash does a bit of DJ'ing, funky music all night. Had a really, really good time. Wake up next day with a serious hangover and fly to San Francisco.


Hewitt : My first time in San Francisco, my first ever time on the West Coast of America, so I'm feeling sort of excited, sort of nervous. Apparently it's more chilled out on the West Coast, but I don't know. We have a show tomorrow with Sugar Ray and The Cardigans, then after that we have LA. I've got rid of all the Denver confusion and I'm smiling.


Olsdal : That Boston shithole is thousands of miles away. We're in decent venues with decent vibes and decent people and we're actually enjoying this one.

Last night we were playing with The Cardigans and hung out with them later. I was really pissed, stumbling into the dressing room, making a twat out of myself. We ended up in a couple of clubs and then got thrown out for smoking - I couldn't believe it! They just treated us as kids, like you're fucking dipshit or something? So that happened and then we ended up in the bar getting even more hammered. It turned into mayhem really and the cops ended up showing up because one of our crew was pissing outside on the street. I think we're all suffering a bit today, last night was a bit of a blow out but it was worth it. It was Brian's birthday. It was cool.


Hewitt : The Whiskey show is a stormer. I think it's got to rate among the top ten of our career. We play a full set and the crowd are there and we're on one. There's a lot of pressure on us because the whole industry is here. Eddie Izzard, Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters, Eric Erlandson from Hole, they all get into it, and we have a wicked night hanging out. It closes a chapter on a good note.

Olsdal : You need a car to get around here, but we're being chauffeured, so I'm not complaining. We go to see ourselves on a big mural - the Melrose Wall on Melrose Avenue. We have had our faces painted up for the last two months - my face is about one storey high! We stand there admiring ourselves and pissing ourselves, getting our photos taken.


Olsdal : Me and Brian are just having some food before the show. We are around Union Square in a French restaurant with a singing Rabbi. We have a really short and chilly soundcheck - the Union laws in New York are a bitch, so they only give us ten minutes. I think the first night's going to be a bit of a success. We are going to have a good time tonight. I think Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine director) is coming down.

Our support band tonight is a band called Kid Rock. Kid Rock has one leg and has a rapping midget sidekick and comes on stage with a pony. And apparently they've hired strippers from the strip club down the road to come and do some dancing. It's going to be strange because it's an all-ages show.


Molko : Hangover from hell. There was so much attitude floating around last night that we got a bit freaked and a bit drunk. How we were expected to go on stage after a band that had strippers and a rapping midget on a pony I'll never know. It forced me to change into a dress, put on too much make-up and set myself up for an evening of being called a faggot.

We took to the stage in our incredibly glamorous gear in front of a whole bunch of Placebo fans and some meatheads who threw bullets at me. I was very drunk and I was in no mood to be fucked with. We started the show announcing that we were ego-cocks in frocks, that we had no strippers, no vertically challenged individuals and no ponies to offer, just ego-cocks in frocks. So, as I got showered with bullets, we left the stage and the place emptied. It felt like one of the biggest fuck-ups, but we noticed the audience were there one hundred percent for us.

Another thing happened last night. The Whisky Bar, which is adjacent to the Paramount Hotel, ejected our manager Dave Maclean for saying "fucking genius" upon the receiving of a brandy and Coke. He was ejected for being rude to the bar staff. I actually had to sling him out and tried to talk him back in. I had to explain that it was a cultural misunderstanding, but in New York they were having none of it.

Anyway this should be the last time that we're checking in. We're taking the Amtrak to DC tomorrow morning. It's been lovely talking to you and we've got a lot of lovely Polaroids. Take it easy.