Placebo, Wembley Arena, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Back in the late 1990s when they emerged as young goth-punk rockers, Placebo's gigs spawned hundreds of lookalikes, each sporting Brian Molko black hairdos and thick Kohl eyeliner. Tonight you can count the lookalikes on one hand, and even Molko has traded his former punk look for something more mature. With his neatly shaven head, black trousers and V-neck jumper over white shirt, he looks smart, almost conservative. It seems Placebo have grown up.

Placebo have enjoyed a surge in popularity since they released Meds in March, their first album of new material in three years, which took them to No 7 in the UK charts. In interviews, Molko grumbles about playing the same songs over the past 10 years, like a "karaoke band". So it is no surprise when they confidently open tonight's show with the three violent-riffed singles from the latest album.

"Soulmates", a harder version of "Sleeping with Ghosts", breaks the run and then, as if to reassure their most long-standing loyal fans, Molko announces "this one's from 1996" before a powerfully sung "I Know". While Placebo's live line-up varies, the stable trio are Molko on vocals and guitar, bassist Stefan Olsdal and long-time drummer Steve Hewitt. Tonight, Olsdal and Molko share the spotlight. The intimidatingly tall and Mohican-haired Olsdal is energetic, interacting with the crowd and wielding his guitar above his head to the opening chords of "Every You, Every Me". It's the pinnacle of the gig.

They then launch into "Special Needs", an extra-energised "Special K" and the menacing "Bitter End", but there is no room for "Pure Morning" nor the popular "Nancy Boy", which brought them fame in the first place. Molko, however, has to apologise for "technical hitches" while Olsdal, whose guitar cuts out during "Taste in Men", lays the blame on a stage invader who has clattered into him and the drum kit: "We'd especially like to thank the one individual who wanted a bit of fame." But despite the chaos, they are forge ahead.

The band encore with an affecting cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill", a stand-out track for its melodic piano riff and softer lyrics. Then, in tune with their new raw sound, they transform the ballad-like "Twenty Years" into a heavier rock song, and they've made it to the end.

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