A powerful and utterly uplifting gig from Placebo.
Night two of a weekend of gigs in October 1998. I’d just been crushed at the barrier of the Brixton Academy the night before, seeing the band I considered the greatest in the world, Mansun. As I roamed to the Academy for the second night in a row, I did wonder whether seeing another band at the exact same venue so soon might be a bit of an anti-climax. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. From my diary:
“Placebo! What an altogether unexpectedly overtly fantastic gig!”
Having been right at the front of the throng the previous night, this time I had a much more distant view, upstairs in the second row of seats (the first had been cordoned off, presumably due to health and safety concerns, which I’d also encountered at my first ever Placebo gig at the same venue). However, I had a great view, positioning myself “just in front of Bri”.
The support bands were Clinic and Ultrasound, making a trio of medically-inclined bands for the evening. I was still working as a hospital clinic receptionist at this point, and it amused me to find myself at an evening so connected to my job – “I could have been at work!” I did not record for posterity how Clinic sounded, but I did enjoy Ultrasound, who were “particularly good, tuneful epic glam stomping stuff.”
But I was not overly interested in the support bands. I was too excited to see Placebo, who’d just released “Without You I’m Nothing”, a second album full of sprawling, twisted melancholy and deliciously caustic menace. They did not disappoint. “Placebo were intro’d by one of their recent b-sides, a plaintively oceanic instrumental, and they strode on in darkness and throttled into the thrashing overdrive that is “Scared Of Girls”. Bri’s in a dress of course, and the stage is set with five crystal chandeliers and a lush red velvet backdrop, the perfect seedy scenery for the sweetly perverted three.”
I’d trudged through 1998 thus far in a fog of depression, and just as with Mansun the night before, this gig was the perfect remedy. Placebo or not, they were clearly the drug I needed at this point in my life. “The very basic, primal, deceptive simplicity of their glaringly dark songs was exactly what I needed to hear last night. “Brick Shithouse”, “Bionic”, “Allergic”, “Every You Every Me”, “You Don’t Care About Us”, they all shot straight for my flagging, apathy-stoned centre and burst it into colour and substance again.”
I was surprised to see Brian Molko abandoning his guitar for some of the slow songs, given that this reduced them to the bare bones of bass and drums, but it worked very well. “Particularly stunning of these was “My Sweet Prince”, all unbelievably fragile and pained”. I had thus far in my Placebo fan career been on the fence as to how much I liked Brian’s voice, but this night I was converted. “For the first time ever I found myself thinking how compellingly beautiful Brian’s voice sounded, as he hollered “you are the one!” with bitter resignation. Clinging to his every breath, every word, every note.”
There was a brace of slow, menacing tunes, starting with “The Crawl”, “still the most insidiously aptly-titled venomous creature of a song“, followed by the “even creepier” “Lady Of The Flowers”. Perhaps these more muted tunes caused a bit of a lull in the crowd, for we soon got a telling off from Brian. ” “Most of you have been unusually quiet for a Placebo gig” admonished Bri, prompting brain-splitting screams, and promising the next song would alter the situation, they topple of course into “Nancy Boy”, a sneering monster of flashing chandeliers and narcissistic pop glory.”
This was the end of the main set, but they were back soon for a truly stunning encore, starting with “Pure Morning”. “In the most thrilling bit of the night, those monolithic chords ring out like god’s own footsteps, great thick strips of white light piercing the night almost in time. “Pure Morning” is one unholy masterpiece of depraved majesty and it’s breathtaking.” This was followed by “Slackerbitch”, “an evil simplistic pop insult”, before Stefan swapped his guitar for a keyboard. After a brief band introduction from Brian (“you can call me jerk off”), he also abandoned his guitar as Stefan commenced tinkling the plastic keys. “Just as I start thinking “will they ever do “Teenage Angst”!!!?” Brian warbles plaintively “shine the headlight straight into my eyes…” Yes it’s the ballad version of “Teenage Angst” and while I did miss the unmatched rush that the normal version blasts out, it was wonderful to have one final chance to revel in the full glory of Bri. His voice is the sound of desperate loneliness restrained, made hard and defiant. It struck a chord with me, like never before.”
And then it was time to end the gig in apocalyptic style with “Evil Dildo”. “It was amazing, total abandonment, feedback torture, Stefan stepping up to the barrier, Brian thrusting his guitar towards the wildly objecting amp, the different members of the band pulled towards separate compulsions.” Watching this on-stage mayhem was the most powerful moment of the gig for me. “Strangely I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the deviant three but especially Brian, as he thrashed about at the back of the stage, back to the audience, lost in the exorcism of his own demonic, chaotic creatures. He may have been just doing it for himself, but its effects were felt by us all.”
And to commemorate this night of darkly cathartic rock brilliance, there was of course only one thing to do. I bought a mug.