Placebo Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture
When Richie disappeared, after a long hiatus, the remaining Manic Street Preachers rejected the bruised glamour and posing that made them interesting when their songs weren't and got down to the job of wearing clothes from Millets and crafting an excellent album. Glamour's loss was music's gain. Judging from their audience, Placebo, and in particular singer Brian Molko, have filled that messed-up hole for teenagers with eye-liner and a fistful of scribbled poems.

When he appears in a fetching black cocktail dress, smeary black eyeliner and Louise Brooks black bob, he is androgyny writ large. David Bowie circa 1974 is in the foyer phoning his copyright lawyer. Is Brian a boy or girl? Perhaps more pertinently, is he real or is he fake?

It is true that his background, growing up around the world going to various schools, and, perhaps worst of all, living on the dole in Deptford, would make a rock star out of any of us, but is he really as messed up as he would have us believe?

He is some kind of Richie Edwards/ Kurt Cobain substitute, making the band in style and attitude an early Manic Street Preachers/Nirvana - not bad for a band only one album old. The lyrics concern themselves with cross-dressing, bruises and dead flowers. If Placebo didn't exist, a record company would have to invent them.

Before their appearance, there is a huge build-up of piercing blue lights playing behind the back-cloth hung in front of the stage. The atmosphere is tense and expectant. The cloth suddenly drops and doesn't reveal the band tearing into their greatest hits at top speed. There is no leaping around. In fact, there is no band. Instead, the blue lights keep wandering and there is a tape playing a mixture of drum machine and wave noises.

The music is full-on but dull at the start. Brian Molko is to music what Ruby Wax is to comedy. His whiney New York-style "Have a nice day" voice set him apart but initially disguises some of the lyrical treasures. But it's always the same with the bands that come to represent the dissatisfaction of their generation. They have a lead singer with a voice that belches idiosyncrasies, from Morrissey's pubescent yelp to Liam Gallagher's hardman drawl, it's what sets them apart from their peers.

And it's exactly what rubs their detractors up the wrong way.

Even so, it's not until "Come Home" ripples out of the speakers that they begin to reveal the affecting subtleties in the outsider rock chic that makes them so attractive. From then on, they sound like the band they should sound like.

The encore is something else again; the final song is that most unbelievable and brave of finishes - an instrumental. This swings from quiet introversion to a crushing wall of noise.

Placebo at the moment are half-formed; they're at the same stage as Nirvana after their first album (Bleach). They could very easily be a mediocre rock band with a novelty vocalist. Or, if the promise of the last half of the gig is achieved, their next album with be the best of the year.

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