“Ladies and gentlemen and those who find yourselves somewhere in between, welcome to our birthday party” and what a birthday party it was.
The assembled capacity crowd were treated to a comprehensive run through of Placebo’s twenty year back catalogue. Placebo at twenty are a fully functional band with Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal taking centre stage but there are a variety of other players in the Placebo “travelling circus” all of who have their moments to shine. Everyone on stage, barring the newest addition the ‘local hero’ drummer, switched through a variety of instruments during the two-hour set and it was clear that music competence was something these guys take very seriously. Constant guitar swaps not only meant that the sound was varied throughout but also that there were never any tuning issues and in one of the newest arena venues in the country the sound quality in this bespoke building was superb. It is also worth noting that whichever seat you were allocated you had an uninterrupted forward facing view of the stage and according to Leeds Arena website, you are never more than 60 metres from the stage.
Placebo are a band for all outcasts, they are not an archetypical rock band and they pull together an audience who are a disparate bunch of misfits of all ages, shapes, sizes and genders (and those in between) and care only about the music. Because of that you have a very passionate crowd who add even more to what is an emotionally charged performance from the band. Brian Molko, looking good for his forty plus years, wrung every ounce of sentiment from the very personal lyrics and vocally he was fantastic. It is his vocals which define the Placebo sound and if you remove them it is surprising how varied the tracks are. From the piano led ‘Too Many Friends’ bemoaning our age of obsessive social media through to the explosive guitar attack of ‘Bitter End’ there is no doubt you are listening to Placebo.
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Even when, for the second encore, they perform their rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ you are left feeling like you have heard a reinvention of a song, not a cover version, they are vehemently original and authentic. It’s that authenticity which sets them apart from the world of commercial music which they have been able to inhabit for the last two decades. Whereas too often today in the music industry every movement is stage managed, every outfit picked to be a sales tool, every sound bite chosen to be emotionally effective with Placebo what you see is what you get. When they post on Instagram that they are leaving it for a while and they would like people to “please take your overblown sense of entitlement elsewhere so [they] can re-join the loving souls here” you believe the sentiment. In the live setting the belief that you are interacting, even in a small way, with the artist is heightened because you know they are human and fallible and they are fragile, trusting you The Audience to be kind to them. Among successful established acts there is too little of this believable humility and when Brian Molko speaks with excitement, respect and reverence about what the other members of the band will be doing for everyone musically and adds himself as a footnote: “I’ll do some singing and play a bit of guitar”, you see the embarrassment in having to accept praise.
Brian Molko is a fragile but unbroken genius who gives voice to the dispossessed, hope to the down trodden and is a champion for open minded acceptance of whoever you are inside and out but would feel awkward being told that. In these times of misogyny and selfishness, Placebo are David against the corporate and political Goliath, without Placebo the world becomes less forgiving of those who need it and what’s more they are note perfect and kick ass live which is always a bonus.