There’s something about Placebo – or more specifically, Brian Molko. The Londoners are a wonderfully morose, throbbing headwrecker of a rock act, but it’s Molko’s lyrics that make them truly exceptional. He pours his soul into taking in heartache, androgyny, desolation and drugs, and tonight’s career spanning set does a great job of putting that desolate perfection front and centre.
The Olympia show is the first night of a retrospective tour/ period leading into 2016’s 20th anniversary of Placebo, and some fans are so enthused by the prospect that when we wonder past mid afternoon, the queue’s already building. The show’s nicely preceded by the launch of all seven of Placebo’s albums onto streaming services for the first time. It’s also the first show with a new drummer, with Steve Forrest departing after seven years to be replaced by Matt Lunn. Not that you’d know; there are no signs of nerves in recent scuzzy openers ‘B3′ and ‘For What It’s Worth’.
If we were expecting dramatic change, that’s not what we get, with the setlist near identical to their last outing in Lisbon back in November. While Placebo’s power once lay in the heaviness of their pointed, chemical-infused poetry, their nods to more recent genres really freshen up their current dynamic. ‘Too Many Friends’ stands out as particularly strong, taking on a slight dance-punk-meets-Interpol element in delicately editing their sound. ‘Rob The Bank’ and ‘Begin To The End’ are similar offshoots that offer a nice change of pace.
Having attempted to ban mobile phone filming and photography from the Olympia tonight (we even see security have a good go at enforcing the ban), the crowd are utterly absorbed, and inevitably go most wild for the classics. ‘Running Up That Hill’ has always sounded suitably rock-opera in Placebo’s hands, and lights up the encore, while ‘Every You, Every Me’ is every bit the thumping outside anthem it was all those years ago. ‘Post Blue’ and ‘Infra-Red’ make for unlikely set-closers, but do reinforce the key to tonight’s success: Placebo build sets, rather than stringing together hits (Meds, in fact, features more heavily tonight than any other album, with the manic beats and brutal pace of ‘Space Monkey’ in particular emphasising why).