Seeing Placebo, in the flesh, is to be part of a hazy, quite surreal and yet completely exhilarating sound world. It appears to be working. Marking the 20th anniversary of the band’s eponymous album and the departure of longstanding drummer, Steve Forrest, Placebo’s return to Leeds was a superb synthesis of the old and pastures new. The reversed chronology of the setlist’s 21 songs sought to capture this.
Making an entrance with the heavy thud of B3 and pop-infused anthem Loud Like Love, Placebo stirred the crowds with some newer material, retracing their musical footsteps as the night went on. The intro to Rob the Bank was, in particular, a stylistic departure from the band’s more texturally dense tracks. Concertgoers were then treated to the seldom played track, Special Needs, followed by a sedated version of Meds, making ‘the sex and the drugs and the complications’ feel near eternal. Picking up the pace, dulcet piano riffs in The Bitter End were energised with some fast-pulsating bass playing from Stefan Olsdal; a truly electrifying number.
Placebo’s aesthetic is a fantastic combination of many things. Take the raucous, almost angry guitar playing of Nick Gavrilovic and the sex-propelled lyrics of Purify and the result is fairly bog standard rock come glam-rock. Throw Brian Molko’s wistful vocals and some pretty instrumental riffs into the mix, however, and you get a kind of frenzied, yet weirdly peaceful and stunning outcome. Placebo’s attention to detail is the thing that elevates it.
Only happy to make a return, Placebo resumed their setlist with the inevitably nostalgic Running Up That Hill. At the risk of an all too familiar delivery, the Kate Bush cover was in fact made cool, slick and current with less reverb in the backing vocals and nuanced rhythmic changes from the original.
This gig wasn’t just a band showing up to give a crowd a good time (albeit, they did). Rather, Placebo gave its many disciples a confident musical deliverance as testimony to their enduring success. A persuasive and exciting watch, if anything.