There are bands who come around once in a lifetime and make their mark on the music industry. They change the way people think, they write about real issues in a new and interesting way, they influence fashion, they have their own unique sound. And they are often imitated, but never duplicated. Placebo are one of those bands. Celebrating their twenty-year anniversary with two shows at Brixton o2 Academy, to end a run of touring the greatest hits, seemed like a beautiful way to end it.
It also made me wonder how one would go about finding a suitable support band. Someone with their own sound I was hoping for, and not a pale imitation of what we were about to hear from Brian Molko and band.
The choice was a solid one: Husky Loops. A London trio with their own dark brand of rock music. A mix of Arctic Monkeys/Jake Bugg and Muse: their sound took us on a journey, with highlights of grunge mixed with heavy riffs. A favourite from their set being an amplified version of Girl Who Wants To Travel The World from their new record, EP2.
As their set came to a crescendo, the Academy really started to fill up. A large LED screen flashed up at the back of the stage treating us to a mix of Placebo highlights from the last twenty years: music videos, tour video clips and live performances. The crowd’s reaction to this really set us up for the evening, as even though this was a taster before the band’s live show, the cheering was almost deafening.
The lights came down and the room was bristling with excited energy and anticipation. The screen began to glow and we were treated to the full Every You, Every Me music video before the band had even stepped out on stage: arguably peak Placebo (Molko at his androgynous best), a great choice for the anniversary tour and a reminder of how it all started for them.
The screen then started to show the full video that was teased earlier (the highlights reel) as the looping drum beats of Pure Morning echoed out, highlighted by flashing blue lights. The intro looped until the full band were on stage, this time comprising of Molko and Stefan Olsdal, along with a drummer, two guitarists and a keyboard player (who doubled as violinist and percussionist). They went straight into Pure Morning. Despite the song being given extra punch and made to sound incredibly rich and beautiful, from the balcony upstairs I could still hear the crowds screaming with delight and singing along. What hit me instantly was the pure professionalism and quality of the performance. Every song had been made richer with the addition of extra band members, which really gave the sound an extra special layer for the twenty-year anniversary. It was definitely a well-rehearsed, stadium-quality performance, but I’m so glad we were in Brixton Academy instead. It made it feel all the more special.
Without hesitation they went straight into Loud Like Love, from 2013’s album of the same name, which sounded SO beautiful and so epic. An instant highlight from the set, despite being one of the newer songs, it had the same effect as a long-loved hit. As the song came to a close the audience were cheering, applauding and stomping their feet so hard that it was deafening and for a solid thirty seconds Molko stood at the front of the stage with his arms aloft enjoying the moment. You could feel the love radiate through the room. Molko spoke to the crowd for a few minutes about how special this tour was, especially ending it at Brixton. He told us that he lost his voice a few weeks ago (“I’m still not fully recovered but we’re here to put on a kick ass rock show for you tonight”). He asked that the audience put away their phones and cameras and instead they really enjoy the show and send all their positive energy his way, and help him to sing. We may have only been two songs in, but not once had his voice faltered. He’s a true showman.
Next we hear Jesus’ Son. There were live cameras set up around the stage, which they projected onto the big screen for this song in black and white, a beautiful effect. And we really got to see Molko and Olsdal up close and personal, even from the back of the room. They both looked exactly as they did twenty years ago, with the only real thing that had changed being their hair!
Soul Mates, from 2009’s Battle For The Sun, has a special place in a lot of Placebo fans’ hearts, and tonight they did it justice with a really enhanced version of the song, followed by a haunting version of Special Needs. Next, Olsdal switched over to a keyboard for a beautifully heartfelt rendition of Too Many Friends and 20 Years.
Looking around the room you truly got a feel for the passion of Placebo fans, who despite the rich sound of Brixton Academy, could still be heard singing along and cheering loudly throughout most of the set. The mix of people was beautiful to see: young teenagers snapping pictures on their phones, older couples singing along with their arms around each other. Placebo really have such a wide appeal and tonight showed you exactly why, with their choice of set list for this night spanning their twenty-year career, ensuring hits from all albums are included.
I Know was next on the set list and we were treated to a beautifully amplified version that kept building, including a beautiful light show and a face-melting guitar solo, which really got the crowd jumping around. The intensity stays for Devil In The Details, giving the audience that full ‘stadium show’ feel. Exit Wounds was a highlight in the set. Truly haunting and a punch in the guts.
The incredible light show helped to amp up Protect Me From What I Want, while we were treated to a David Bowie montage on screen during a version of their duet single Without You I’m Nothing. The set took a high-octane turn with For What It’s Worth, which got the entire venue jumping. The last two rounds of “Got no friends, got no lover!” were sung by the audience at a deafening level, showing that the enthusiasm level was still at its peak.
Slave To The Wage packed a punch with an incredible guitar solo in the middle; and it was followed up by Special K, another highlight of the set. Molko got the audience to sing parts of it, with the lights coming up and the band pausing to get the full effect from the adoring crowd.
A Song To Say Goodbye was accompanied by the music video, and The Bitter End rounded up the set. As the crowd erupted once more, Molko thanked everyone and the band left the stage. We weren’t kept waiting long, and they came out for a two-song encore, not before the crowd once again started a thunderous roar of appreciation. Olsdal held up a rainbow coloured bass and the room erupted once more in anticipation of the next song.
Arguably Placebo’s biggest and most controversial hit, Nancy Boy is pure encore material for tonight’s set. Molko can’t quite hit the high notes due to his being ill, but it doesn’t mean the song loses its effect at all. It was a real honour to hear this song live and to see the reaction from the room.
Infra Red finished off tonight’s epic set list: and I mean that in every way, it was a long and incredibly strong set list. I remember this song being released and hearing it live for the first time sent shivers down my spine. A perfect end to the evening. As the song came to an end the band leave the stage, leaving Molko to play with the guitar effects, before saying goodbye to us for the final time. The crowd stuck around, possibly hoping for a second encore. I know I could have stayed all night to listen to their entire back catalogue if they had the time!
Placebo really put a lot of hard work into this night’s performance. Molko, despite recovering from being ill, remains the perfect frontman and his voice is as beautiful as ever. The songs are still fresh and pack a punch.
We’d spent the evening with Placebo celebrating their 20-year anniversary, which makes me wonder what 30 years will bring? A stadium tours perhaps? Definitely a few more albums to add to the hit list. Placebo proved why they are one of the best bands on the planet, and that they are still going strong and better than ever.