6 things we learned at Placebo's Brixton Academy show

A photograph of Brian Molko on stage
(Image credit: Paul Grace)

Last October, British alt.rock stalwarts Placebo announced that they’d be heading out on the road to mark their not-inconsiderable 20 years as a band. The tour, they said, would be a showcase of hits and fan favourites – a setlist which would correlate with their recently-released retrospective album A Place For Us To Dream.

This week, that tour culminated with a double-headline slot at London’s Brixton Academy. Returning full circle to where they began in 1996, the band promised a show tailor-made for fans. But did they manage to deliver? Here are the things we learned.

Placebo fans really, really like Placebo

The excitement and anticipation levels within Placebo’s fans are sky high before the band even make it to the stage. Take, for example, the split second of a video projection – cast onto the back of the stage slightly before time – which prompts a deafening frenzy of cheers from the crowd.

When the band finally appear (after a video of super-hit Every You Every Me is aired – more on that later), you’d be forgiven for missing the opening notes of fan favourite Pure Morning as the whole of Brixton Academy explodes into life. Which is understandable, really, since this is a song they’ve not played live since 2007.

Placebo really, really like their fans

Placebo are known to have an absolutely rabid fan base; diehards who will follow them to the ends of the Earth and, most likely, back again. Brian Molko acknowledges this when he gives a shout out to the front row, recognising many faces who’ve travelled thousands of miles to see the band he readily admits is “for outsiders, by outsiders”.

This, of course, means that when Brian reveals that he completely lost his voice two weeks ago and he’s not fully recovered, there’s no need to worry about whether these songs will lose any of their power. This crowd have got his back and they’re ready to sing the hits right back at him.

Placebo still attract a diverse crowd

While it’s not surprising that a band like Placebo – who have played with concepts such as gender identity, sexuality and mainstream attitudes towards masculinity throughout their career – bring in a crowd that’s incredibly diverse, it’s telling that even 20 years on, it still lends the show a noticeably different atmosphere to your average rock gig.

The piano is not a friend to Placebo

When Placebo are doing what they do best, they’re fantastic. But when they change pace, the set starts to flounder. Such is the case when Stefan Olsdal plonks himself in front of the keyboard which has been dragged to the front of the stage and embarks on a run of piano ballads which dampen the energy in the room significantly.

While there’s nothing wrong with slowing down the pace of a set, in this instance it just goes on for a little bit too long, failing to pick up again until Without You I’m Nothing kicks in. However, once that’s over with, they manage to drive it on home with a solid run of bangers right until the set closes, with songs like Slave To The Wage reminding you why Placebo have been going this long.

It’s a 20 years tour… but they didn’t play their biggest hit

As we mentioned earlier, while proceedings kick off with an extended video version of Every You Every Me projected onto the back of the stage, Placebo make the odd decision to… not include it in the setlist. We know, we know; no one would put together a Placebo setlist and not include Every You Every Me… apart from, it seems, actual Placebo.

Don’t worry, the early ones still sound great

The whole set is a fine-tuned fan’s delight, peppered as it is with classics that haven’t been given an airing in years; songs the band themselves don’t consider their best work, but which we’ve been desperate to hear.

Pure Morning and I Know sound absolutely huge, and no doubt benefit from the band being fleshed out since they were originally released. If anyone had doubts over whether their older material would sound weak in comparison, that thought is quashed from the moment they step on stage.

Placebo know what their fans want, and when they come back on with an encore of Nancy Boy, the Academy explodes into a mass of flailing bodies. Even though Brian’s voice has suffered over the years – prompting him to sing this one an octave lower than normal – there’s no denying the power this song has, as fresh and vital now as it was 20 years ago.

A Place For Us To Dream – 20 Years Of Placebo is available now via UMG

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