Apparently, frontman Brian Molko once described Placebo's music as, "Punk pop for postponed suicides," and, although others may see them as more of a neo glam-rock outfit, his is an apt description, though clearly they "swing both ways".
I mistakenly lost interest in Placebo when the meandering acoustic guitar of the first album failed to live up to the incredible action of the first single Nancy Boy, but after watching this, you could say I have been "reconverted".
The DVD covers a selection from last year's album Sleeping With Ghosts and tracks going back to the second album, from which Pure Morning is drawn. What's recorded here is the passion of a great band performing at their most fluid and cohesive. Placebo produce a fierce undertow of rhythmic intensity which is hypnotic and engaging, while Molko sings the world of the (not always) dysfunctional outsider, and proves that having one American parent doesn't necessarily disable the irony gene.
Molko's voice is an odd mixture of nasal North American campness and an unstinting strength and clarity. He never strains, and clearly loves to get that connection going with his audience, not only with his full-bodied, shameless lyrics, but also with some hastily (?) learned (and badly pronounced) asides to the (French) fans who clearly appreciate his efforts.
Swedish-born bassist Stefan Olsdal generates a good driving bass line, adding depth to Molko's deliciously thrashy and distorted guitar rhythms and melodies. Ex-Breed drummer Steve Hewitt keeps very much to the fore, providing superb percussion, with broken up and "disco-ey" punctuation that is never just a passive backdrop.
So they are the upsides, but here's the downside: the editing of the concert footage itself all but destroys the atmosphere of the night, by ceaselessly jumping around from one obtuse one-second image to another. First there's the obscured drummer's elbow, then there's the out-of-focus singer just before he jumps out of view, and then there's the sudden zoom outs from the back of the audience... It's like a bad night at Top Of The Pops, circa 1970.
This seems to be a juvenile attempt to visually mimic the visceral energy and mania of the performance, but it's very irritating and the inclusion of grainy fractured monitor footage (which could have worked nicely) has the same impact, for the same reason.
Thankfully the second half is much, much, better (from around Black-Eyed onwards), with longer shots of things you can actually see, like some interesting and amusing shots of the absorbed or self-conscious fans, and of course, Placebo themselves. In the climactic finale, The Pixies' Black Francis comes on stage and the line-up burst into a superb rendition of Where Is My Mind, drawing an electric response from the grateful crowd.
The additional documentary (perhaps 10 minutes too long) is an enjoyable bit of extra on-the-road footage, including an "intimate" gig in a packed Seattle nightclub (605 people), the band's bemusement at their massive popularity in Mexico, and so on.
All in all, this DVD is definitely a buy, in spite of the bad editing in the first half.