Punters were understandably nervous about the prospect of Placebo’s much anticipated twentieth anniversary shows not going ahead, after the last minute cancellation of the tour’s first show in Perth due to an as-then undisclosed illness on the part of frontman Brian Molko. Thankfully Wednesday’s show in Adelaide went ahead, but there was still a sense of relief as the doors opened at Margaret Court Arena to welcome a surprisingly small, but intensely devoted contingent of fans who made it to the venue early. Fans were greeted by marriage equality advocates immediately upon entering, a delicious irony given the vocal opposition of the venue’s namesake to same-sex marriage. The fans however showed their socio-political colours with generous donations and by displaying “Vote yes” stickers.
The crowd was still surprisingly small by the time the lights went down for UK alt-rockers Deaf Havana. Hot on their heels of their headline show the night before at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge, the band put on a performance that combined the slick deliberateness of pop with the authenticity of rock. Deaf Havana didn’t put a note wrong, but frontman James Veck-Gilodi certainly put on the most compelling performance with his heartfelt vocals; not to mention really looking the part as he played rhythm guitar as well. Lead guitarist Matthew Veck-Gilodi was not to be outdone towards the end of the set however, joining James on vocal duties to add an extra edge. Though the crowds were still trickling in, it was clear Deaf Havana won people over throughout their set, as they applause grew louder and more sure. No doubt Veck-Gilodi’s humble attitude contributed, as he showed gratitude for the crowd’s support.
The anticipation grew as Deaf Havana closed their set, and the floor and seats began to fill. Placebo’s pre-show presentation started with the interesting choice of displaying their ‘Every You Every Me’ music video in full; in a sense an early disappointment, as it signalled the band would not be playing one of their biggest hits live at this twentieth anniversary show. The music video was followed by backstage footage from throughout the band’s career, ending with Brian Molko’s prophetic voice alone breaking the silence: “One day, this will become evidence.”
The opening notes of ‘Pure Morning’ then filled the stadium to the adulation of fans. One by one the live band hit the stage, with Bill Lloyd (bass, keys), Angela Chan (violin, keys, backing vocals), Nick Gavrilovic (guitar, keys, backing vocals) and Matt Lunn (drums) joining permanent and founding members Stefan Olsdal (guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals) and frontman Brian Molko (vocals, guitar). The classic song went on with appropriate embellishments, particularly from Olsdal, though the energy didn’t seem as high as one might have expected. Molko is particular did not seem his usual self as compared to previous Australian tours. To be sure his vocals were faultless, but he certainly didn’t look well, and kept movement on stage to a minimum. This was soon to be illuminated after the band took the set forward to the title track of the latest album, ‘Loud like Love,’ a song representing the sentiments of everyone present. Molko shortly explained that on arriving in Australia he’d been hit with a terrible bout of tonsillitis. With reverence he thanked the Australian doctors who’d taken care of him and enabled him to perform in Adelaide and Melbourne. Knowing what Molko was suffering made the rest of the set even more heroic. The band belted out their latest single, ‘Jesus’ Son,’ before returning to older albums with ‘Soulmates’ and ‘Special Needs.’
By this stage the energy ramped up a notch, and Molko really brought the audience along with him for ‘Too Many Friends,’ again from the latest album. The mood then became deep and intense for ‘Twenty Years,’ the song that proved the big shift from making it through the show, to putting on a truly memorable and emotional night. This was followed by live rarity ‘I Know’ from Placebo’s first self-titled album, a truly stirring moment. Molko was moving around and interacting with the band members more, exchanging supportive glances with Olsdal and Chan in particular. Chan herself is always an amazing addition to the Placebo live experience, with her electric violin filling out the band’s sound to magnificent effect.
The energy built throughout the set from there, with ‘Devil in the Details’ and ‘Protect me from what I Want’ ticking the mid-set melancholy box, to be capped off with ‘Without You I’m Nothing,’ an absolute poster song of teenage angst. The band then brought the rock ‘n’ roll energy back with ‘For What it’s Worth,’ and the crowd matched their energy as those on the floor danced their way through the rest of the set, including ‘Slave to the Wage,’ ‘Special K,’ ‘Song to Say Goodbye’ and the electrically charged ‘The Bitter End,’ which absolutely raised the roof before a sort of psychedelic, distortion ridden outro as Molko and Olsdal manipulated their amps to create an interesting wall of sound.
Naturally the band returned for an encore, but not before Olsdal had a few words to say. Specifically, he declared his support for the LGBTQI+ community in the face of their current struggle for marriage equality, which the band deemed particularly important given the venue. “We stand with you,” Olsdal boldly declared, holding his rainbow-emblazoned guitar aloft before telling the crowd about an Australian radio show he’d been listening to called “Fork You.” He then suggested the crowd chant the name of this radio show, while he yelled the name of the venue. “Margaret Court!” “FORK YOU!” Just say it out loud if you’re confused, preferably loudly and in public.
Naturally this led into the classic ‘Nancy Boy’ to the adulation of the crowd, followed by ‘Infra-red’ and the stirring but downbeat cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that Hill.’ As a fan favourite it wasn’t a bad way to close the night, and eased the crowd back into the real world after an emotional 90 minutes of music. Though of course there were inevitable omissions to what was by design a career-spanning set, it’s doubtful anyone left dissatisfied. Placebo are a tight, precise and accomplished live unit, with a powerful set made only more impressive by the knowledge that Molko would have been suffering throughout. Twenty years in, Placebo have certainly not passed their prime, and fans no doubt eagerly anticipate their eighth studio album and the tours that will accompany it.
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Photos By Vanessa Jarvis
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