Placebo, Brighton Centre


I reckon it was circa 2001 I came home from school to my Nan’s house, flicked to Kerrang! or MTV2 and caught the tail end of Nancy Boy. She had Sky y’see, and that song was ALWAYS on.

It’s hard to underestimate what an effect those few minutes viewing had on my taste and interest in music. I owe my appreciation for so many of my favourite bands to those snatched half hours I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted – imagine sitting your 70-something Nan down and showing her Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit. Well that was us 15 years ago. Hurr.

Through Nancy Boy, Pure Morning and later, The Bitter End, Placebo got under my skin. In my 12/13-year-old innocence, I had absolutely no idea what Nancy Boy was all about – probably for the best.

But sheesh, they aren’t half a frustrating, difficult band to love. For every stroke of brilliance, there are half a dozen stinkers, and then there is their famous reluctance to air the classics live. IIRC, Nancy Boy was mothballed for a decade at one stage. Wut?

In fact, I think for many years, I actually had no desire whatsoever to see them live. I always have been a fairweather Placebo fan – their 2004 singles collection Once More With Feeling was (and remains) just about all the Placebo I need in my life, the notable exception being their utterly brilliant 2009 album Battle For The Sun.

And then, 15 years in waiting, Placebo earlier this year announced a 20th anniversary tour promising all the hits for, in the 2016 ticket market, the bargain price of £27.50 – a tour which included an atypically dinky show in the grand scheme of things at the Brighton Centre. Omg.

It came round sooner than expected actually (Wednesday night, to be precise), or perhaps that was just out of my longing for this absolute shitshow of a year to be over – something not lost on the band.


The show opens with playback of Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire while archive footage of David Bowie is laid over the visuals for Without You I’m Nothing. At the other end of the spectrum, the ghastly visage of Donald Trump is branded on a pack of cigs during one song, complete with health warning. Apt.

Brighton comes alive from the droning opening strums of Pure Morning, brought back especially for this tour after a nine-year absence from the band’s setlists (again, why?). No matter, it sounds a fresh as it did when it was released in 1998, Brian Molko’s vocal is spot on, and the lyrics are every bit as nonsensical as ever.

The hulking two-and-a-quarter hour, career-spanning 25-song set navigates the band’s proudest and deepest melancholy cuts, culminating in a brutal version of 1996 debut album closer Lady Of The Flowers.

“That’s the end of what we like to call the melancholy section tonight,” says Molko to cheers from the crowd. “Hah! People usually boo at that point,” he jokes, acutely aware of the band’s historically dark, brooding image, persona and, vitally, perception. Let us not forget the vitriol some reserve for Placebo; they are, to abuse a cliché, one of those ‘Marmite’ bands.

“There’s only so much melancholia we can play,” he continues. “It is our birthday party after all – who’s ready to party?”

Cue a raucous finalé – For What It’s Worth, Slave To The Wage, a bananas version of Special K, A Song To Say Goodbye and finally, my personal favourite (which totally did not disappoint), The Bitter End. And we breathe – briefly.

Two encores ensure. Nancy Boy sends Brighton into raptures, while their now customary cover of Kate Bush classic Running Up That Hill is a fitting closing number. I was secretly hoping they’d dust off Taste In Men just for us, but it was not to be. It didn’t matter.

I tried to sum up my thoughts in a tweet straight after the show. In short; this was every single bit the Placebo gig I’ve patiently waited the best part of the past 15 years for, ever since I saw Nancy Boy at my Nan’s house.

Placebo – tick. Done.

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Remember when the Arctic Monkeys came along and ‘saved’ guitar music back in 2005?

No, me neither. In fact, I don’t recall there being a time, certainly in the early 00s, when it was ever in need of a saviour, especially after it allegedly was ‘saved’ only a few years earlier by The Libertines.

I distinctly recall going to my Nan’s after school twice a week (she had Sky) and watching a seemingly endless conveyor belt of great guitar bands come and go.

Kinesis, Hell Is For Heroes, Nine Black Alps, Brand New, Yourcodenameis:Milo, Serafin, Cave In, Amplifier, Oceansize, The Datsuns, InMe, Grand Volume, Idlewild, Million Dead, Slaves To Gravity, The Music, Death From Above 1979, Pure Reason Revolution, Zico Chain, Secret Machines, Sucioperro, The Vines. To name but a few of my favourites.

Hell, I’ll even chuck bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Interpol, Editors, The Strokes, Kings Of Leon and The Sunshine Underground in the mix too, at the more commercially acceptable end of the spectrum in that ‘alt-indie’ grey area.

These were halcyon times. Two hours of MTV2 followed by Gonzo, before Zane Lowe became an insufferable sycophant, skivving off school of an afternoon to skim through albums I had literally no money for at Martian Records in Taunton (sadly now gone). I saw Million Dead perform an acoustic set there once. Oh what happened to you Frank Turner?

But with the benefit of hindsight, you’d be forgiven for thinking the guitar, at least in mainstream circles, had been outlawed until Doherty, Barât, Turner and co got their mitts on one.

For all the column inches devoted to the Arctic Monkeys, they expertly rode the crest of an extremely popular wave, fuelled by the growth of social media. Their transition from My Space to Twitter and Facebook came at precisely the right time. Suddenly, they commanded an audience unlike any before – one (literally) at their fingertips. It’s hard to overstate the effect social media had on music at that time. It was seismic.

Sadly, for all those acts that came before though, they created a scene that was doomed, not to failure, but to obscurity.

There were flashes. Get Free by The Vines was massive. So was Take The Long Road by The Music and Gloria by Brand New.

I recall reading NME around that time too, blithely waxing and waning as popular opinion shifted. That said, had it not been for NME (even in spite of its endless Libertines cover features), I would never have discovered just about my favourite band of all time – Amplifier. It’s remarkable in retrospect they even got the half column they did in some end of year ‘riff round-up’. The song was The Consultancy if you were wondering. Go listen to it. It sounds like a guitar turning itself inside out.

Nostalgia’s an unhealthy obsession, especially when you’re still only in your mid-20s, but hearing Crushed Like Fruit by InMe will always transport me back to my Nan’s living room.

Actually, guitar music is still going great guns right now. 10 years later, the mantle has been assumed by Arcane Roots, Baroness, Marmozets, Battles, Black Peaks, Brontide, Future Of The Left, Drenge, Wolf Alice, Foals, Royal Blood, Vennart, Pulled Apart By Horses, Tame Impala, Turbowolf. Go. Listen. Devour.

Here are nine great songs from a sadly forgotten era:

Kinesis – This Dead End (2003)
Unmistakably influenced by Matt Bellamy of Muse’s guitar histrionics, This Dead End is over-the-top in every way, from the absolutely filthy distortion on the guitars to the ridiculous solo and enormous chorus.

Idlewild – A Modern Way Of Letting Go (2002)
Two and a half minutes of sheer unrelenting fury, propelled by a riff that could splice through universes. Very much a song to listen to first thing in the morning.

The Music – The Dance (2002)
The Dance sets the tone for The Music’s self-titled debut. Swirling, psychedelic waves of guitar build and build and build into rhythmic motifs thanks to one of the tightest rhythm sections you’ll ever hear. Oh, and the ending is somewhere approaching what I’d expect the end of the world to sound like.

InMe – Underdose (2003)
Another band clearly influenced by Origin-era Muse, Underdose is built around a simple riff that is as jaunty as it is buccaneering, while a then teenage Dave McPherson switches effortlessly from his impossibly deep teenage roar to cut-glass falsetto.

Secret Machines – First Wave Intact (2004)
I saw Secret Machines on a boat in Bristol. They closed with this track. A 10-minute twisted mélange of blues, rock and roll and psychedelia. For a song with just one distinct beat or groove, 10 minutes has never felt so short. We couldn’t stop idly strumming that very beat for weeks.

Cave In – Anchor (2003)
Like the aforementioned A Modern Way Of Letting Go by Idlewild, Anchor is a three-minute relentless assault on the senses. There is no break, no let up, no flab. Just a barely contained wall of noise with a chorus to die for.

Nine Black Alps – Not Everyone (2005)
It had to be this or Ironside. Not Everyone though features Nine Black Alps singer Sam Forrest at his most ferocious. With more than a nod to Nirvana, Not Everyone channels the angst of every 20-something outcast.

Amplifier – The Consultancy (2004)
This is by no means my favourite Amplifier song – but it is the song that perhaps had the greatest impact on my taste in music at the time. I was a huge Muse fan back then (when they were at their peak) but The Consultancy was the first song I heard around that time that gave me the same thrill as when I first heard the riff in New Born. It was just SO big.

Oceansize – Catalyst (2003)
Again, by no means my favourite Oceansize song. However, when those squally wails of guitar give way to that interlocking riff (which pans left to right if you listen to it on headphones) and finally explodes into another cataclysmic riff, Catalyst becomes simply mesmerising.

And another six from right now:

Marmozets – Born Young And Free
Arcane Roots – Energy Is Never Lost, Just Redirected
Wolf Alice – You’re A Germ
Black Peaks – Set In Stone
Drenge – Running Wild
Brontide – Knives