When Placebo first rocked into the public eye twenty years ago with ‘Nancy Boy’, it was a pretty different world. Openly bisexual frontman Brian Molko wore dresses and makeup, sang about drugs and sexuality: appealing to disenfranchised Gen X-ers keen to hang onto their adolescence, sparking horror among the more conservative oldies and engendering controversy in the media. However it was hit ‘Every You Every Me’, cleverly released on the ‘Cruel Intentions’ soundtrack, which established Placebo – and Molko in particular – as cultural icons.
Bands who gain traction through notoriety frequently don’t have staying power, however via a mix of catchy hooks, clever collaborations and a bunch of hard work, Placebo have left the controversy behind, knuckled down and quietly (or noisily, depending which way you look at it) gotten on with the business of writing and recording music and consistently touring over the last two decades. Their solid and distinctive jangly post-punk rock delivers enough melody to appeal to pop-lovers and sufficient grunt to satisy guitar-heads.
Their twenty year anniversary at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre was a suprisingly tame affair: the crowd – ageing along with the band – appeared to have more inclination towards standing and watching than moshing and screaming (an exception to this was the Newcastle show where rowdy fans were turfed out by Molko for pushing and fighting. Good ol’ Newcastle.) Molko wasn’t impressed with the staid atmosphere and advised the Brisbane audience via several appearances of the word “motherfucking” to dance, that concerts were a two-way street and didn’t they realise it was the band’s birthday party? Suitably admonished, the crowd leapt to boogie to the final half of the show, ‘Special K’, ‘The Bitter End’ and ‘Nancy Boy’ (during the first encore) in particular drawing roars.
‘Every You Every Me’ was first up via the big screen, a production decision which rankled. I don’t go to see bands live in order to watch their videos. The first track played live by the band was, happily, ‘Pure Morning’, with the driving drums making for a thumping start to the night. Fan favourites ‘Special Needs’, ’20 Years’ (now given an extra layer of meaning), ‘Protect Me From What I Want’, and ‘Slave to the Wage’ were all solidly delivered. ‘Without You I’m Nothing’, the band’s David Bowie collboration, was accompanied by sentimental visual footage of the legend himself. The entire night had a wistful, nostalgic feel to it, which made their Kate Bush cover ‘Running Up That Hill’ a fitting, emotional end to the second encore and night in general. Twenty years on, Placebo can certainly still deliver, albeit in a slightly different way, to a slightly older crowd.
IMAGES (c) Lamp Photography