“Welcome to our birthday party,” Placebo singer Brian Molko shouted to his adoring fans at Brisbane Convention Centre (11 September).
It’s been 20 years since Placebo released their debut album. But with all that time behind them, Placebo looked and sounded as youthful as they did when they formed.
Placebo’s first stop of their Australian tour in Perth was cancelled at the last minute due to illness. It wasn’t a great sign that they opened with a music video of classic track ‘Every You Every Me’, a song I would have loved to have heard played live.
After a video showing clips of the band through the years, the opening strum of ‘Pure Morning’ rang out like a warning siren. Band member Stefan Olsdal appeared, playing a chiming guitar riff as his towering frame rocked back and forth. Finally, Brian emerged in good health and voice perfectly intact.
Banter was kept to a minimum, but there was hardly any need for introductions. Fans knew songs down to the smallest details, cheering at the strike of the very first guitar chord of ‘Special Needs’ and ‘Slave To The Wage’.
Even with all their familiar hits, Placebo and their backing musicians surprised fans with new twists. A booming bass and massive drums led to confusion among fans until Stefan took to his keyboard and played the melody to ‘Twenty Years’ to great applause.
When ‘Slave To The Wage’ rung out, Brian finally addressed the crowd bargaining with them to dance otherwise there’ll be no more music. “This one’s called dance motherf#$%ers,” he yelled, beginning to strum ‘Special K’. However, he stopped, informing fans his guitar was out of tune. “That was an anti-climax or if you’re Catholic, coitus interruptus,” he joked, followed by chanting “coitus”.
Placebo refused to let issues like that get in the way, instead ripping even harder into ‘Special K’. Seats shook from a combination of the band’s speakers and fans complying with Brian’s request. Upon finishing, Brian shouted with relief: “Coitus is better than masturbation! But I don’t want to knock masturbation because it’s sex with someone I love.” It’s delightful to hear under all that angsty rock is a funny guy.
Even after two hours, Placebo wasn’t done returning for two encores. Stefan held a rainbow bass above his head, joining Brian on the opening stomp of ‘Nancy Boy’, surely in support of marriage equality. The lyrics to the first encore closer ‘Infra-Red’ signalled they’d return with “one last thing before I shuffle off”.
The muffle of a drum machine rhythm played, with fans clapping along. After some time, the band returned and began building over the top of the rhythm for their spirited version of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, finishing with an assault of guitar noise.
Twenty years is a long time, but Placebo showed no sign of it affecting them. They’re still wild and youthful, but now a tighter and louder unit. Here’s to another 20 years of magnificent alt-rock. Maybe they’ll look the age they should now.