Placebo – Leeds O2 Academy – November 30th 2022
By Andy Murray
With hindsight the Leeds crowd should feel extremely grateful to have experienced Placebo in all their glory on the night, not only as the last time the band were in town they played at the vast 13,000 capacity Arena, but due to lead singer Brian Molko’s unspecified illness affecting his voice the date proved to be the last of the tour with a number of UK & Irish gigs still remaining.
First came the ‘diva-grunge pop-trio’ Cruel Hearts Club who over the years have secured support slots with an eclectic array of leading artists ranging from Sting to The Libertines. With the sold out O2 Academy already packed it provided the perfect platform for the girls to release their own brand of 90’s garage punk. Their fuzzy guitar sound, relentless energy and catchy choruses are infectious and having witnessed them belting out the single ‘Don’t Blame Me’ they appear set for bigger things.
The break between acts created a story of its own as the stage back drop was illuminated with Placebo’s scripted request for the crowd to refrain from using their mobile phones during the show, a message further compounded by a recorded public address of the same content from their front man Brian Molko.
Whilst there was a sense that the excited gig goers were divided on the issue the plea in the most part was respected. In the bands own words “our purpose is to create communion and transcendence” and who could argue against that mantra.
For those there expecting a setlist packed full of greatest hits they would leave disappointed. Placebo are a band who have ambitiously moved forward throughout a career that spans more than 30 years and their sole ambition was to showcase a latest offering ‘Never Let Me Go’ that boasts their highest chart offering in the UK to date.
The opening salvo of new material hits the spot with ‘Forever Chemicals’ providing the perfect album and show opener with its slow build and driving industrial groove. Both ‘Beautiful James’ and ‘Hugz’ remind us of how the band have that special gift of making a song instantly familiar with their trademark driving guitars and vulnerable lyrics now supported by a heavier synth.
The beautifully haunting ‘Happy Birthday In The Sky’ slowed down the pace, stoppping us in our tracks and came close to reducing the adoring front row to tears. After a short injection of nostalgia via an intense rendition of their 90’s post punk classic ‘Bionic’ it was back to the programme with more new material, in fact across the evening they bravely squeeze 11 of 13 tracks from the album.
As the band worked its way through the second half of the set however it quickly became clear that Molko’s commitment to putting on the show in the first place was far braver. To the admiration of his on-lookers he explained how he’s performing against the advice of his doctor and whilst musically sound it was clear he was struggling through fans favourites’ ‘Slave to the Wage’, ‘Song To Say Goodbye’, ‘Bitter End’ and ‘Infra-Red’.
After a lengthy interlude the encore was delivered with renewed vigour and their highly acclaimed cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is greeted with warm approval to remind us of the unmistakable voice of Molko.