Placebo are quite important to me I suppose. Their eponymous debut was released just before my first year in university started. Nancy Boy was a powerful anthem of isolation and difference. To me, it marked a moment when a song with that name could echo general feelings of teenage angst rather than being explicitly about gender fluidity. It was the start of a sort of general comfort with what would now be labelled LGBTQ+ issues. For me anyway.
Like Billy Corgan before him, it took me a while to get over the whiny, nasal quality of Brian Molko’s voice. But once I did, it was the way in to a fantastic album.
Placebo’s rise to stadium status looks inevitable now, but for a while they were decidedly outsiders. When they finally play Nancy Boy it certainly feels like a floor-filling anthem, but I can still hear the awkward rebel teens in Placebo that I heard when I was also awkward, rebellious and teenage.
But it’s different now. Tracks like Pure Morning (with which they start magnificently) or Twenty Years sound effortlessly anthemic, and the band have an ease with their own material which lets them experiment with it live.
They really do have a knack for making songs that all sound like the Big Single from the album. And they really do look like rock stars while they’re doing it. Molko looks absolutely at his ease through all the make-up and sweat, like he was born to stand in front of all these people. And he sort of was. Stefan Olsdal, guitarist, bassist and fellow founding member, also looks like he’s relaxed into his job role. He stands man-spreading like a rock star. He holds his guitar flag-bearer-style like a rock star.
Although I have to say, while I personally find Olsdal quite funny, Molko is quite a lot further into the professionalism spectrum than I’d like. He barely talks to the crowd. The first time you tell an audience that you’re grateful that they’re “sharing this moment” with you is lame. The second time is a decisive step into utter naff-ness. Although, for the sake of balance I will say that he covered well when he accidentally turned one of his many pedals off, silencing his own guitar.
They do seem to be an excellent choice for Latitude. This is a very full, very happy tent of dancing, nostalgic people. I haven’t seen a crowd have so much fun here for a while.
I saw Placebo play a few years ago at the Wembley Arena and left berating the fact that my ears weren’t ringing. No such worries tonight. The sound is ecstatically loud, the better to hear the distortion and noise.
They finish with their cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, which they’ve pretty much made their own, and this finally gives the people at the back of the stage a chance to be heard properly through the howling guitars.
Placebo aren’t a friendly band. They feel arch, distant, cold. But they do know exactly what they’re doing, they certainly get the job done, and absolutely deserve their status as legends.
A version of this review first appeared at fringereview.co.uk