Grown men in full-on part-Heath Ledger’s Joker, part-goth clown get-up? Young girls with painted-on tears running down their faces? It must be a Placebo show. The veterans of the so-called ‘misunderstood’ angst rock circuit – if you believe the unofficial DVDs made about them – are at the Brixton Academy to round off an extensive tour in support of a deluxe edition of Battle For The Sun with two packed shows.
Before the celebrations can begin, there is already a sizeable crowd only minutes after doors open. Queues to get in had started from as early as the afternoon, and those early risers are rewarded for their patience with some instant live music from Little Fish, who take on support duties. The Oxford duo, backed by a live keyboardist, have been touring non-stop for the last year or so, yet lead singer and guitarist JuJu has lost none of her energy – always doing her best to get a crowd going regardless of their interest in the band’s music. The audience respond positively, with current single Whiplash being the highlight of their short set.
However good Little Fish are, there is only one band that the crowd really wants to see, and for an hour and a half Placebo deliver a headlining set with urgency, vigour, purpose and energy. That’s no mean feat when you consider how long they’ve been touring, but the result of an extensive diary is always going to be a well-rehearsed performance with both main band members and additional live players fulfilling their roles with aplomb. Brian Molko looked like a frontman who had been reborn following the struggles of their last album, Meds. This new found confidence translated into a set that was heavy on the rock side of things.
Backed by a wall of lights and video screens, they open with Nancy Boy, the song that first got them their big break in 1996, and it’s not the only surprise of the evening. Also littered throughout the set is a Nirvana cover (All Apologies) and another early classic in the form of Teenage Angst. The majority of the hits also feature with Every You Every Me, Song To Say Goodbye and The Bitter End all getting a rousing reception. By the time Taste In Men was alive and buzzing with the sound of a deep bass groove it had ended a cracking four-song encore that included clowns shooting t-shirts from guns, balloons with ‘FEAR AND DEATH’ emblazoned on them, and enough confetti for a half-century of weddings. Over the top, maybe, but it felt immensely celebratory.
That there very few mid-tempo songs in the set might be an inclination as to where the band go from here following their well-earned break. Not that it matters for the time being. As far as end-of-tour celebrations go this was one that, despite the arena-sized production, felt no-frills and fun. Whether Placebo are still relevant to rock music in 2010 is up for debate, but there is no begrudging their ability to put on a solid rock show.
Placebo played: Nancy Boy, Ashtray Heart, Battle For The Sun, Soulmates, Kitty Litter, Every You Every Me, Special Needs, Breathe Underwater, The Never-Ending Why, Bright Lights, Meds, Teenage Angst, All Apologies, For What It’s Worth, Song To Say Goodbye, The Bitter End, Trigger Happy Hands, Post Blue, Infra-Red, Taste In Men.