Placebo is famously named after the term for prescription drugs used to ease troubles of the mind (you know, rather than actually healing). The rockers have now been on the circuit for almost two decades, since the release of their self-titled debut album in 1996 at the peak of the Brit-pop era. And like an addict who knows that the medicine is no longer working as it should, but still cannot stop them selves from popping the same old pills, they continue to peddle their now ready-made formula of alternative rock and mopey lyrics.
Monday saw the London-based trio appear at the Enmore Theatre. The show follows the release of their seventh studio album – and their first album in four years — Loud Like Love last September. The set mixed new songs with some old favourites. One of the best of the latest tracks was the piano-led anthem “Too Many Friends”. Playing with lead singer Brian Molko’s androgynous persona, and throwing in a critique of targeted advertising to boot, the lyrics begin: “My computer thinks I’m gay”. It’s a plaintive critique of how social media has us hooked.
Dressed all in black, with lycra-tight skinnies and chunky boots, his long hair hanging loose, Molko came across as part-panther, part-crow. The rocker told the whooping crowd he was “enchanted” to be there, but otherwise largely remained tight-lipped and let his eardrum-bursting strumming do the shouting. That is not to say that Molko doesn’t indulge in a little theatricality. As he finished one song, the singer melodramatically flicked his hair behind his shoulders, one side at a time. While swirling graphics were projected onto the walls, the band was washed in red light, giving them a demonic glow. At one point, a single beam shot down from on high onto Molko, bathing him in a rosy yellow illumination.
Placebo does, of course, retain a fetishistic attraction for its fans: its whining lyrics and Molko’s raspy thin vocals speaks for a world brimming with painful dissatisfaction and malaise. Much of the audience at Monday’s sold out show were made up of devotees who came of age in the ’90s (or earlier). But there were also a large number of boppers who would have been in nappies when Placebo first made it big. To the band’s credit, the drugs may be out of date, but they can still produce a hit.