My fourth trek to see the wonderous Placebo began nervously. My ride missed the turn off to Newtown, and we endured a hard slog through Sydney's traditional traffic nightmare to back track and right our wrong. I was particularly edgy because, despite seeing Brian and the boys 3 previous times, I'd never been anywhere near them! In 2004 I went with my dad, and was too scared to even attempt the barrier. In 2006 I sat in the wings, and in 2010 we were drinking right up until the start, so I got stuck at the back. Being tall, this isn't an issue, but this year I really wanted to see and feel the essence of the lads.
It's always so spine tingling, knowing that people you absolutely idolise and who have had such a huge impact on your life are even in the same country as you. Placebo played Soundwave on Sunday, and I happened to be in the vicinity wandering around, and just that knowledge that all that separated me from my heroes was a metal fence and fat security guard filled me with goosebumps. Inside the Enmore, I turned to my friend and said 'you know, I haven't been exicted in 3 years. Tonight I feel like exploding'. For the better part of a decade Placebo has soundtracked my entire life. This was never going to be a dull night.
First up were Little Scout, a band from Brisvegas in Australia. I am always amazed at the depth of musical talent in this country. Sure, they weren't anything special, a stock standard 4 piece with an attractive vocalist and 3 burly men to back her up. Yet all of these bands, who may sound slightly stunted on record, take on new personas when faced with a sea of eager faces and a sound system that isn't a $5 microphone plugged in to a set of lap top speakers. The drumming was electric, filling the spacely theatre with deep sonic blasts. Each song began to mesh together, as they do when you are unfamiliar with the music, but they provided ample energy to warm a crowd who were in danger of tipping in to fever pitch.
Then, Little Scout left and we sat, and waited. Half an hour is an age. Finally, to the interluding drum loops that punctuate the show, the lads made their way on to the stage. B3 rained down upon as, all pulsing synth, and Brian was in absolutely fine voice. There was a period where question marks were raised over his live performances, and certainly in years passed I have noticed that towards the middle of a set he has shied away from the higher notes. Not so tonight. Absolutely stunning.
The first half hour was breathless. B3 in to For What It's Worth, which bled in to Loud Like Love, provoking a raptuous response from the crowd who chanted every single word back at them. Brian's performance was mesmerising, his expressions as he sung 'Breath, breath, breath, breath, believe, believe, believe, believe' were those of a man still desperately battling for the sun, a man with knowledge and hard fought wisdom to impart. He then introduced the jack in a box Steve Forrest, and invited him to bring the funk, as the redux of Twenty Years came in to fruition. Still a beautiful song, no matter what incartation we hear.
Then the real mayhem started. The crowd was an eclectic mix. No longer the refuge of the teenage and angsty, Placebo draw a broad brush. They are currently being promoted by Triple M, a local Sydney radio station that is, unapologetically, for males aged 18-45. This ensured a healthy mix of working class men with the plethora of genders and dispositions that usually attend a Placebo show. When Every You, Every Me started, the moshing began, almost unexpectedly. The crowd went ballistic, truly raised the roof. The slightly slower Too Many Friends was preceded by Brian saying he had changed the names in the story to protect those implicated, and I'm not sure the crowd fully understood his meaning, but parroted the lyrics nonetheless.
Then, unfortunately, set list choice fell down a little. Borrowing heavily from Loud Like Love was always a must, and Scene of the Crime, A Million Little Pieces (brilliant), Rob The Bank and Purify were all quite well recieved, even if the lyrics weren't quite as universally known. Speak In Tongues was an odd choice, The Never Ending Why or Battle For The Sun more obvious selections. This middle section didn't sag, despite the unfamiliarity of the music, and the entire time Stef and Brian were masters of those in front of them, playing the role of rock gods to perfection.
The final half of the set (before the encore) was electric. Space Monkey exploded in to being, before Blind (a tad safe) and Exit Wounds (would rather have Begin The End). Then the real mayhem started. Meds, the version that starts slow then quickens to a fever pitch, provoked more delighted moshing and screeched lyrics. Song To Say Goodbye, an absolute gem live, didn't disappoint one bit, and to appease the radio listeners Special K and The Bitter End rounded that portion out. Despite all the years, and the countless listens to Bitter End and Special K, hearing them live is a completely new experience. The crowd were absolutely mental, the floor was bouncing like a trampoline and I was drenched in the sweat of about 9 different people. The adoration shown to the band was beyond anything I've seen since a Justin Timberlake concert. There'd be moments where Brian would stop, framed by the only spotlight, and just listen to the rapture. It was deafening.
The encore featured the weakest selection of songs, yet this in no way detracted from the night. The haunting new version of Teenage Angst was another crowd favourite, as was Running Up That Hill, although this was one of the least energetic performances I've seen of it. The night ended with Post Blue and Infra-Red, both off Meds. I found it slightly odd they ended with those two, when they used up The Bitter End and Special K before the encore, yet the crowd were in the mood to compromise. At the end, Steve jumped down in the crowd, Brian bowed graciously and Stef, an ever present pillar of calm throughout the night seemed overwhelmed. I certainly was. I'd expected a slightly more ambiguous crowd, given this new jump in Australian status from indie, relatively unknown band to mainstream radio promotion. Yet Teenage Angst was met with one of the biggest responses of the night, indicating a knowledgeable and euphoric attendence.
I've seen a lot of live shows. Placebo's is one that will always intrigue me. Tonight was not for me, it wasn't for those who have spent a life collecting Placebo records and learning to play the guitar just so you can strum out Twenty Years. They steered well clear of any kind of nostalgic romance, picking only 4 tracks from the first 4 albums, all of them successful songs or live staples. Tonight was for the new fans, the ones who heard The Bitter End and envisaged a rock band. I've seen them as an electronic band, and a rock band, and this was their most destroying display. The way they never let the energy drop for a minute. There were no ballads, no Bosco, no Centrefolds. Fiona Brice providing beautiful strings and some piano just added a deeper texture.