Placebo @ O2 Academy, Birmingham – 12 December 2013

The recent release of Placebo’s seventh studio album ‘Loud Like Love’ is said to mark a fresh, clean rebirth for the band, with Birmingham being the first stop on a handful of UK shows to determine if this is a revival, or just a bubble.

For their detractors – Placebo have always been bloated, bombastic and dull, with teen-angst, gender-bender figurine Brian Molko delivering nothing more than a sulky nasal whine. For their fans – the whole androgynous, angst-fuelled, glamour rock dissatisfaction with life, is what it’s all about. So, tonight, I’m intrigued to discover what the live Placebo effect will have on me, if any.

Protagonists Molko, guitarist-bassist Stefan Olsdal and the elaborately tattooed drummer Steve Forrest enter stage along with the bands additional touring members. They slide straight into ‘B3’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’ – tracks from their previous two releases, both set in the ever distinctive Placebo mould – before ‘Loud Like Love’ proves to be unsurprisingly similar.

‘Twenty Years’ is close to how long Placebo have been together, and it appears the spirit has remained. As it has for their wide ranging audience, who hang off every last lyric of every song, before ‘Every You Every Me’ sends the first blood coursing through my veins, with the house following: “Every me and every you. Every me and every you. Every me-hee!”

Poker faced Molko eventually greets his audience with trademark androgyny: “Ladies and gentlemen, and those of you who find yourself somewhere in-between”, before there comes a majority of material from ‘Loud Like Love’ and ‘Meds’ the 2006 comedown album after a decade of excess and success.

Marking the halfway point of a mammoth 22 track set is ‘Space Monkey’, performed without the distorted megaphone vocal – for that Marilyn Manson-esque parody – but still epitomising the whole Placebo atmosphere. As does the likes of ‘Blind’ and ‘Song to Say Goodbye’.

It’s not often you’ll see a member of any band swapping between bass and guitar, but Olsdal does so effortlessly, with a tortured stare into nowhere, enigmatical as his front man. Meanwhile, Forrest is a whirlwind of precise drumming capability with a body of art to behold. Together with Molko, it’s a twisted melancholy machine that becomes easy to lose yourself in.

It’s with disappointment, for me anyway, that there is no ‘Pure Morning’ or ‘Nancy Boy’, although the awesome ‘The Bitter End’ kicks up a real row at the end of the main set with Molko moaning “we’re so anaesthetised” over chiming guitar into power chorus.

A slow version of ‘Teenage Angst’ is a bit of a drag, before an outstanding cover of Kate Bush’s ghostly classic ‘Running Up that Hill’ is given an extra coat of eeriness, making it the highlight of the encore. Less captivating shades to finish the job are ‘Post Blue’ and ‘Infra-red’ from ‘Meds’.

Throughout their most prominent years I would never have expected a Placebo gig to be a banging affair. They have always been delicate and controlled, slow and precise, far from uplifting. But surprisingly that formula does transpose well to the live environment. I’m not sure this rebirth will provide any change to said formula, but allowing myself to be immersed for once – I can see how utterly compelling the Placebo effect can be.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston