Placebo – Live

Manchester Central, 11/12/2009
By Pete Rea

Writing a gig review of one of the UK’s biggest selling bands is a daunting task for me, especially as I didn’t particularly enjoy the concert.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if they represent a genre that I’m not into… at least that’s what I thought. I’ve got a personal history with this band, I became obsessed with them when they released their first album in 1996 and I loved the second album just as much. I continued to follow Placebo off the back of my initial enthusiasm, but interest started to fade after each album; they leaned towards a more downbeat, pop direction and what drew me to them in the first place was their edge and raw energy.

They also previously wrote beautifully sentimental and touching slow songs such as ‘Hang On To Your IQ’ and ‘Without You I’m Nothing’. The newer material lacks this emotion and spark and spine-tingle factor. Unfortunately, tonight’s concert also lacked all of the songs that I personally wanted to hear.

Placebo’s 6th album ‘Battle For The Sun’ was released this year, and so obviously the new tunes prevail tonight. They start the gig with ‘For What It’s Worth’.

Manchester Central is a huge space, approximately the size of a football pitch, with a curved roof. The stage alone is bigger than most Manchester venues. There are massive festival speakers hanging from the ceiling down to the floor on either side of the stage. You need to stand WAY back to fully appreciate the impressive light show, which comprises 5 huge screens and a ton of lasers. The music seems lost in this place, despite the high wattage at their mercy. 

The bass and kick drum shake the floor, drowning out the tinny guitar sound and muffled vocals. Other guitarists appear at the sides of the stage but don’t invade Brian Moloko and Stefan Olsdal’s space at the front, as they occasionally march around in a choreographed routine… silver suit and all. 

Placebo are one of those bands who I consider would remain more artistically interesting if they were still skint and playing sweaty basements to 200 students using their friends equipment. Obviously they will see it from a different perspective as they have successfully adapted their style over the years for a worldwide audience.

There is a lack of atmosphere here and the tunes don’t carry well. When Brian reveals that the Manchester music scene was a huge influence to them, it brings the biggest cheer of the night. The crowd contains representatives from at least 3 generations who can mouth all the words as they naval gaze and film the big screens, and themselves, on their phones. 

Life is breathed into the air during ‘Every You Every Me’ (the highlight), ‘Bitter End’ and ‘Taste in Men’, with its fantastic intro that pushes their earlier sound in a direction that I would’ve liked to see them pursue.

A majority of the lyrics from the new material seem to be telling us, or someone, or themselves maybe, to not do something. Brian’s favorite word is definitely, don’t. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that Placebo are now Emo. A thought which leaves me to nostalgically listen to the bands old material, as if they had split up ten years ago.

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