Placebo Never Let You Go At Brixton Academy

Placebo really don’t want you on your phone — filming or taking photos — during their show. A polite, heartfelt note on their social media platforms explains how a sea of mobiles makes it difficult for them to connect with the audience and disrespects other fans. Plus watching a gig through a screen takes you out of the moment.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

“Our purpose is to create communion & transcendence. Please help us on our mission,” urge Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal in the message, which is also projected onto the backdrop while the roadies set up. Eventually, Molko’s disembodied voice even reads it out.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

The repetition may seem like overkill, but is certainly far less invasive than those gigs where the artist insists on locking your phone in a Yondr pouch. Plus, Placebo do make very good points. As a punter, the benefits are instantly obvious. The view’s better. Distractions are fewer (although you do become more aware of characters around you, like the short woman in her 60s poking people in the back in an attempt to inch towards the front). And hands are always free for synchronised arm waving and above-the-head clapping (both of which are in abundance at Brixton Academy tonight). 

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

The situation appears to benefit Molko and Olsdal even more. Backed by their low-profile, high-impact touring band, the duo seem to feed off the gaze of 5000 faces, with Olsdal especially soaking in the attention. Looking relaxed in a smart black vest and matching trousers, his easy smiles, friendly waves, and casual gait are those of a man loving life. 

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Molko’s a little more intense, obviously focused on his vocals, but, when freed of the microphone, uses every opportunity to stretch his legs and interact with the other musicians or the front row. Only when the singer-guitarist reveals late in the show that he’s struggling with a sore throat does it become clear how much the fans have lifted him tonight — if he’d not said anything, it’s unlikely anyone but the diehards would have noticed. Yes, his performance is that powerful, leading both crowd and band through a relentless set dominated by the hard-hitting album Never Let Me Go.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

It’s not unexpected that their latest LP takes centre stage. It’s new. It’s their first in nine years. It’s incredibly good. And, one of the driving forces in its creation was Placebo’s personal backlash against their own 2016-17 20th anniversary tour. “The whole enterprise was commercial, rather than artistic one, and I guess we reacted against that,” said Molko in the March release’s press notes.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

As if to emphasise the point, Olsdal added: “I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm left for the band, because I think I was just drained. The thought of doing it again filled me with dread.”

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Still it’s brave to play 11 of its 13 tracks, no matter how good, in a 21-song set that completely ignores 1998’s breakout album Without You I’m Nothing (the one with Every You Every Me and Pure Morning) and big hit Special K (currently their third-most performed song ever). But, energised by playing fresh material and/or buoyed by the community they’ve created tonight, Placebo have clearly made the right, albeit risky, decision.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Album opener Forever Chemicals is also the perfect show opener, with its slow build and driving industrial groove introducing a set of songs dealing with the pain of the world. Beautiful James is just as urgent but, beneath its prettiness lies despair. Hugz stands out for its aggression and spat lyrics like “A hug is just another way of hiding your face”, immediately contrasted by the forlorn beauty of the elegiac Happy Birthday In The Sky.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Surrounded By Spies is Placebo at their most menacing, with Molko especially leaning into the darkness as he tries to make sense of our tech-obsessed surveillance society through intentionally repetitive phrases, while the musicians create a maelstrom around him. The effect is certainly arresting, but, of all the new tracks, it’s Try Better Next Time that connects most with the Brixton audience. A dead cert for a future greatest hits tour, it carries a message about the inevitable eco-disaster on a huge singalong melody that ranks amongst their catchiest. 

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

As Placebo make their way through Never Let Me Go almost in sequence, they drop in gems from their back catalogue. A propulsive Scene Of The Crime, from 2013’s Loud Like Love, and 1996 post-punk jangle Bionic, from 1996’s self-titled debut, are dropped early in the set, with most of the classics saved for the final run towards the encore.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Too Many Friends, with Olsdal on a baby grand and Angela Chan on violin, rubs shoulders with the energetic likes of bouncing For What It’s Worth, goth-rocker Slave To The Wage, insistent Song To Say Goodbye, urgent The Bitter End, and bounding Infra-Red.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

After just a few minutes for everyone to catch their collective breath, the encore is dominated by their faithful cover of Tears For FearsShout (another sing- and wave-along, with a beaming Olsdal taking on lead vocals and the guitar solo) and more radical makeover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Both leave the audience in high spirits as the show wraps in a chorus of looped guitar feedback. As Molko departs stage right, and Olsdal disappears into the photo pit to greet fans, both must certainly know that tonight’s gig, like the album it promotes, has been a triumph.

Placebo @ Brixton Academy

Review of Placebo at Brixton Academy on 27th November 2022 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.

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