Tonight’s concert in the marvellous Albert Hall in the centre of Manchester is a highly anticipated affair. Placebo have carved out a distinctive place in the echelons of British and world music, firstly as purveyors of a particularly distinctive brand of angsty indie but also because they’ve lasted the distance; this tour has been branded the 20 Years of Placebo tour and although they have never been prolific during this time, Brian Molko and co. have certainly built up a distinguished back-catalogue and the sold-out crowd are itching to celebrate.
Unfortunately, for reasons out of the band’s control, the party doesn’t exactly go as planned. Clues to Brian’s illness are evident on stage; large glasses of medicinal looking liquids next to the drum riser imply things are not quite right, but for now, the expectations are still at fever pitch. These are enhanced further when the lights dim and the video for Every You Every Me is projected on to the wall behind the stage. The crowd sing along passionately and their devotion is rewarded by a glorious montage of the band’s last twenty years, cut to the secret track from the debut record. Eventually Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal emerge, opening proceedings with the iconic Pure Morning. The more recent Loud Like Love follows and for those wishing to view the concert through a phone, this song provides the last opportunity. Representing the only time Brian addresses his adoring fans, we are all given the one rule of this particularly party: no mobile phones! We’re then treated to about ten seconds of the very good new track Jesus’ Son, (which appears on the band’s anthology album released in 2016) before the song jolts unceremoniously to a halt. Brian points to the unfortunate miscreant who has disobeyed his party rule. The decree is reinforced and Jesus’ Son grinds into gear one more time only to stutter to a halt a few seconds later. “We can do this all night”, Brian informs us, pointing to the latest culprit. Phones are eventually put away for good and we finally get to hear the song, which is grand epic full of soaring strings complimenting Brian Molko’s familiar nasal vocals.
It was hinted that the tour would focus on old songs and albums but this sadly never really happens as one might have expected. For example, Without You, I’m Nothing is the last time we dip into the 1998 album, but it is a poignant moment as the song is accompanied by a backdrop of imagery highlighting the connection the band enjoyed with David Bowie. I Know is the first of only two forays into the debut record and the song’s arrangement starts to betray the vocal problems that Brian Molko is battling. Unable to reach the passionate highs the song demands, the frontman has clearly made a decision not to make matters worse by protecting his voice on the rest of the more demanding songs, which unfortunately effects the overall dynamism of the evening. Although this is clearly a shame, the evening is still blessed with several spine-tingling moments. Slave to the Wage and Special K remind us of Placebo’s acerbic response to the new millennium and first encore Nancy Boy manages to transport us all back to era which seems strangely unblemished and virtuous compared to today’s standards.
The final treat of the evening comes in the form of one of the best covers ever. To be honest, their Covers album is blessed with several, but Running up the Hill is a ghostly gem that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end. The band very quickly postponed several of the next few dates of the tour following the Manchester date, releasing a statement saying, “Brian Molko saw a specialist ENT doctor who has confirmed that Brian is suffering from a throat problem which is affecting his vocal chords and he needs treatment and complete rest for the next few days.” We wish Brian a speedy recovery and would like to thank him for persevering in Manchester’s Albert Hall. This old fan certainly appreciated it!
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Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto