PopBytes decided to kick off the 2013 CMJ Music Marathon at the legendary Terminal 5 on the west side of Manhattan to catch Brit-pop-alt-glam rockers Placebo on Tuesday night (10/15/2013). We know Brian Molko is certainly an acquired taste –– full of androgynous embittered guitar-pop anthems. But here at PopBytes we enjoy that kind of thing. The pseudo-goth appeal of the English trio is our cup of tea (pun intended).
Tuesday night’s show was Placebo’s first US show in six years after they cancelled their North American tour back in 2009 due to Molko contracting a mysterious illness that caused him to collapse on a festival stage in Osaka, Japan. This time around the boys were in good health and have a solid album to prove it. Loud Like Love (iTunes) doesn’t explore new territories but Placebo were never a band to dip their toes in different waters. Their formula works. Wounded lyrics about love, loneliness and addiction. Melodic, guitar-driven pop that keeps you looking ahead. Even their ballads like “Too Many Friends” which appears on their new album balance that fine line of trite and zealousness. It sometimes comes off hokey, but still manages to resonate and charm the listener. “My computer thinks I’m gay. I threw that piece of junk away,” Molko croons as the ballad begins. If only I could exclude the opening line, it would be a perfect Placebo song. It’s just cringeworthy.
The lights dim in Terminal 5 and Placebo is not even on stage yet and they have mashed up “Pure Morning” with Sigur Rós. It takes awhile to realize those incoherent beautiful wails are from Jónsi. Whoever is responsible for this mashup deserves all the awards. Placebo takes the stage and Molko grew out his hair, shoulder length and he looks great. The bassist Stefan Olsdal looks as good as ever. He seems to never age. They open with “B3” the title track off their 2012 EP and the crowd goes wild. They play a lot of songs off Battle for the Sun including “For What It’s Worth” and “Breathe Underwater.” During the latter song, a violinist came out and added another layer of emotion to the soundscape. It seems Placebo are trying to make up for their canceled tour and absence in the states.
They play over twenty songs! Molko recognized a few girls in the crowd who were standing in front of him on line at Starbucks a few hours before the show and called out to them. He seems to be in good spirits. “Every single relationship that seems to be a point of transgression, and when that occurs I think it is sensible to applaud it. Thank you,” Molko said before beginning the new song “Scene of a Crime.” I don’t remember Molko ever being this friendly in front of a crowd.
The infamous guitar strum of “Every You, Every Me” gets the crowd moving. At least half of them are jumping up and down screaming along with Molko. I’m transported back to my suburban high school, driving around campus blasting this song from my friend’s car.
Placebo start playing “Song to Say Goodbye” and for a moment I thought they were leaving us. But we were only eleven songs in, and that would have been just a tease. They follow it with “Exit Wounds,” a track off Loud Like Love and then comes a medley of all of their hits. “Meds” was missing the backup vocals of the Kills’ Alison Mossheart but still managed to generate the same anthemic emotion. “Special K” comes next and the love song is just as intoxicating as the lyrics suggest. They close with “The Bitter End” but come back for an encore of four more songs including their staggering cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” that introduced them to another generation of fans, “Teenage Angst,” “Post Blue,” and the glam rock anthem “Infra Red.”
The crowd left Terminal 5 short of breath and emotionally spent. Placebo was a fundamental part of our teenage years. We have wallowed and cheered along with Molko and company for over a decade. There will always be a pseudo-alternative-glam-goth in all of us and it seems we will always have a friend indeed in Molko.
TOP PHOTO | VALENTINA KALINKEVICH