What better way to kick off an evening watching Placebo, than with a band blending emo sentiment with powerful alt-rock riffs? Though their instruments are drenched in 90s and early 2000s tones, Deaf Havana’s lyrics, not to mention the soaring vocals of front man James Veck-Gilodi, toy with a kind cathartic explosion of angst that somehow feels hopeful by the end of each song. Though their antics would be right at home in a tiny club, Deaf Havana’s big sound transitioned nicely to the arena stage and filled Quedos Arena with heavy riffs and even heavier feelings.
Before Placebo began their set, “Every You Every Me’s” promo clip beamed around the room. While it would have been nice to hear the song live, it was interesting to engage with this time capsule, from an era when bands had a hell of a lot more creative freedom (not to mention cash cash), in areas outside their albums. Plus, it reinforced the fact that the journey through two decades of Placebo was going to extend beyond the music into a full arena spectacular. Boy, did it kick off on a high note.
After a short montage of live clips, interviews and so on, the band emerged to a roaring rendition of “Pure Morning.” The moshers, while enthusiastic, didn’t toss themselves around with reckless abandon, but given that most of the turnout had been with the band since their debut, it wasn’t so surprising.
Because this wasn’t just a night to catch Placebo, it was a chance to dust off the old New Rock boots, fishnets and leather skirts with layer upon layer of eyeliner. Even Brian Molko, whose fashion sense has become decidedly mainstream, appeared with beautiful black makeup eyes. The only thing missing was the air of angst and youthful frustration around the crowd, but that’s usually the first thing to go when it’s time to grow up.
Banter was light, but direct - “hello Sydney, welcome to our birthday.” With that, and a short discussion on why you should safely f**k everything that moves when you’re 20, the career spanning show began. Two to three songs were plucked from each album for the live treatment, alongside other rarities and a stunning cover of “Running Up That Hill” to finish off. A few fans were left scratching their head at some song selections, but this wasn’t a night to just churn through the hits. Placebo gathered tracks that explored the evolution of their sound across all seven albums, to seemingly sum up the band in a couple of hours. They succeeded, for the most part, although the set structure was a little off.
After throwing everyone into action with their impressive introduction, Placebo slowed right down and spent the better part of the first half drifting through a bunch of the drearier numbers. Though musically impressive and riddled with sweet, sweet nihilism, the atmosphere fell flat as Molko rolled into warbling verse after warbling verse. Things picked up however, as the latter half was almost entirely dedicated to driving cuts like “For What It’s Worth,” “Special K” (complete with sing-along chorus) and “Bitter End.” But some of these should have reared their heads early on.
Still, the show was peppered with plenty of beautiful moments nonetheless. “Nancy Boy” made its return to a Sydney stage after god knows how long, and footage of an overtly enthusiastic David Bowie and Molko jamming sometime back in the 90s, spread across the screen during “Without You I’m Nothing.” You could feel the joy and sadness spread like a gentle rising ride across the arena, though few moments came close to the second encore.
As they walked back on stage, Stefan Olsdal strolled over with a huge smile across his face, and lifted his rainbow guitar (which shall henceforth be known as the Gaytar) to the sky, swelling with pride as Sydney erupted in applause. It was these moments, and a few mournful lamentations in lyrics that hit aging fans hard like “no escaping gravity,” that really defined the show.
And even though it was an anniversary tour, Placebo’s performance didn’t feel like a throwback. The songs may bear more nostalgia than anything else for many fans, but these guys have managed to sidestep the tragedy of an aging band desperately trying to hold onto the record’s that made them famous. That said, Molko still seems like the kind of guy that refuses to grow up, but maybe that’s a good thing?
It was a tight performance backed by an incredible production. The illness that forced the cancellation of their Perth leg was nowhere to be found, and the bands enthusiasm grew throughout the show as stand-still “showmanship” gradually became animated. And the interplay between Molko and Olsdal, eyes matching, heads turning to face each other during most verses, still borders on ridiculously cute, even after all these years. They may be a little older than the subjects covered in their classic songs, but Placebo still play with the same potency, personality and powerful honesty as they did when the band began.