March 2004. A month full of Placebo gigs and major life-changing events.
“Run away from all your boredom…”
My first gig of 2004 saw me much the same person as I’d been for the previous few years. I was still living in hospital accommodation, working part time at my Outpatients job and studying for my Psychology diploma for three days a week. I didn’t have many friends or a busy social life, but that was absolutely fine – especially when there were Placebo gigs to go to!
I’d last seen Placebo the previous April, when I’d been, erm, particularly moved by the majesty of Brian Molko. But it was a very different version of Brian who appeared before us this first night of their 2004 Brixton shows. From my diary:
‘So quiet tonight! Not the band, of course, who commenced their set behind a big white sheet displaying iconic images of the three. But Brian was uncharacteristically untalkative, indeed, he said not a word to us til nearly the end of the main set. How strange! How different from the sweet chattiness of last April! Is this the NewBri, or was it just tonight? I shall see soon enough, I guess.‘
But it was still a great gig, and despite this quietness of Bri – or maybe because of it – the crowd made up for it with its screaming frenzies, and I found myself right in the thick of it.
‘WHAT a crowd though. Screams of apocalyptic urgency directed towards that small beautiful SexGod: for truly, he seemed to be worshipped. I daresay the fans were even more fervent than a Manics crowd in their adoration of Him. And the CRUSH! The maddest crush I’ve been in for many a long month. I was second-row Brian side (naturally), a bit nearer to the centre than I would normally venture but still very much to one side, and there were times when I could not move and had to wrap my arms round my neck as there was no room even to fold them. But I had a great view, and when it’s Brian, that’s what matters.’
Unusually, I only took the time in my diary entry to mention one song from the setlist that night, and it wasn’t even a Placebo song, but a Pixies cover:
‘Great, funny, sexy Rock Moment towards the end of “Where Is My Mind”, ie the end of the end, when Brian’s mic got twisted round the wrong way, so a helpful roadie came rushing up to set it right. Only to witness Brian two seconds later kicking the mic stand in a kind of defiant teen rebel way.
Well, I thought it was cool.’
I wanted to write more in my diary at this point, but was thwarted by knackeredness. ‘Must go to sleep as it’s one a.m., work looms and lest we forget I’m doing it all again tomorrow night.’
And so we come to night two.
This second gig was a bit different for me, as I was accompanied by a couple of work colleagues. So, instead of racing towards the front to get as close as possible to lovely Bri, I found myself much further back than I usually like to be.
‘We stood about 20 or so rows precisely behind where I’d stood the night before. It was great to be able to dance a bit, and also to see the on-screen visuals more clearly. But y’know, nothing can beat the thrill of being mere metres away from a fantastic star, while they do their fantastic iconic thing.’
On the plus side, however, I was very pleased to discover that Brian’s sulkiness the previous night had been a momentary aberration.
‘Brian, though! So much more chatty and happy and much as I remember him from gigs of old. Clearly Monday’s muteness was just a blip. Hooray for that.’
The setlists identical for the two gigs, and not greatly changed from when I’d seen them the previous April, but that doesn’t mean these weren’t blazingly exciting gigs. I rattled through a number of highlights in my diary.
‘Beginning with “Bulletproof Cupid” with the band hidden behind the white sheet ‘til it dropped half-way through in a most exciting manner.
“Bionic” was a little flashback to those iconic gigs of ’97 with Brian in a bob and a dress. I fondly miss that sleaze-deviant version of Placebo, much as I love the debauched megastar version of today.
And “The Bitter End” is just a storming, storming live tune. The new harder version of “Sleeping With Ghosts” works very well indeed. And “English Summer Rain” with its huge breakbeats and unfeasibly catchy chorus. And oh, “Centrefolds”, just so aching and gorgeous, “come on falling star, I refuse to let you die”, all fragile, nearly broken, ‘til it suddenly explodes into the mountainous melancholy, oh yes.’
It all finished, once again, with the ‘fantastic‘ Pixies cover of “Where is My Mind”.
‘Cascading chaos, with lovely Brian conducting us in the chorus as we shouted along. He was obviously pleased with our performance, ‘cos he gave us the thumbs up and a dainty clap. Bless him.’
So, thoroughly thrilled by these two stellar gigs, I bought myself a ticket to the newly announced third Placebo gig of the month, which would be precisely four weeks after this one. And then, all hell broke loose in my life.
Between these two Placebo gigs, I turned 29. And something else entirely strange and new happened to me: I developed a hectic social life. There was a new young and glamorous member of our Outpatients team, and despite my scruffiness she decided to adopt me as her best friend, whisking me out every night to party with exotic and exciting people. Also the medical records boy I’d had a tiny bit of a crush on – as detailed in this post – began to appear at many of these nights as well, and together, the three of us embarked on a year of messy friendships, heightened emotions, a bizarre love triangle, and endless amounts of alcohol and laughter.
All that is, of course, a story for a very different type of blog than this, but the upshot of it is that for the many gigs to come, I have very little to go on in terms of diary entries. I was far too preoccupied with this new strange life I found myself in to go into intricate detail about my umpteenth gig from sundry androgynous rock reprobates from the 90s.
So here is my diary entry for this, my last Placebo gig so far:
‘I was down the front. And I wore my glasses! And Bri played us “The Bitter End” ringtone on his mobile.’
Thrilling and insightful I’m sure you’ll agree. In truth, this third gig was probably very similar to the previous two I’d attended this month, but it still would be nice to have a bit more to remember my last Placebo gig by.
The story of my Placebo fandom following this will be very familiar for regular readers of my blog. Once my 30s came along, I largely abandoned the gigging life, replacing my musical obsessions with Doctor Who and the aforementioned social life. Once in my 40s, and recovered from all this normalcy, I did buy myself a ticket to see them on their 20th anniversary tour in 2016, but ended up ill with the flu the day of the gig and couldn’t go.
The good news is, Placebo are still going strong and working on their eighth album, so all being well, I should have the chance to see them again once we have crawled free of the Corona crisis. But I at least have a string of incredible Placebo live experiences to look back on, and the memory of how their gigs bookended one of the most explosive months of my entire life.