THEY'RE EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY
It's been several years since I'd last seen Placebo. They've always been a fantastic live act, but I had the added excitement this time of knowing they were a different band. I'm not just talking level of accomplishment, but the fact that I knew they had taken on a touring keyboard player and second guitarist as back-up (back-up being right, as they backed those guys way the fuck up; the guitarist was often invisible behind a bank of speakers). Going from a taut trio to a fleshed-out five piece could prove quite interesting.
Of course, that interest would be postponed while waiting for Eagles of Death Metal to get off the stage. If Josh Homme, he of the overrated Queens of the Stone Age, wasn't the drummer, you'd be hard-pressed to fathom why this band was ever given a gig of any kind, much less an opening slot on a pretty decent-sized tour. Peddling boring barroom rock with a touch of Southern riffs, you'd almost think this band was ironic, what with the name (Death Metal? Not in sight!) and the lead singer's porn star moustache. But the man in charge is so bereft of charisma, and choruses like, "Shit, goddamn, I'm a man," you realize that irony is too subtle, too intelligent for this outfit (and this from me, a boy sick to death of irony in the kitsch sense). Only the lead guitarist proved to be at all interesting, but his equipment only worked intermittently. And Homme, who looks a bit like a jock normally, actually resembled Eminem with his little bandanna on. And he's a better singer than he is a drummer, which isn't saying much at all.
(While I strongly dislike Queens of the Stone Age, I am digging the single Homme did with PJ Harvey as part of his Desert Sessions side project. "Crawl Home" is a cool, sharply cut song, and the b-side has Homme leading a cover of Harvey's "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore." Definitely curious to hear that album now.)
Thankfully, the wait between bands was rather short, and Placebo came on at quarter past ten, digging right into "Bulletproof Cupid." Brian Molko was a mighty midget, eventually stepping to his microphone like he was cornering it for some inappropriate touching. On the other side of the stage, towering over Molko in height and presence, bassist Stefan Olsdal sashayed and posed and played to the audience's adoration. As the one completely queer member of the band, he gets a lot of attention, and clearly he loves it. They even had it figured out where he could walk through the audience via the aisle separating the all ages and the drinking areas. I couldn't see, but I am sure there was much groping.
The early portion of the set was heavy on current album Sleeping With Ghosts, and despite the early airing of "Every You Every Me," reliant more on album tracks than hits. So we got "Plasticene" and "Black Eyed" and a surprising turnout for "Harder Faster" from the first record (the only one from it, in fact). The crowd didn't seem to mind these detours away from the expected; the energy level was high. The people who were there knew the band, was ready for them. It was an act of teasing. We knew they were going to give in eventually, but we were ready to hang on and build with it (for a band so sexual, I doubt calling this foreplay would be off-base). Then, as the set began to crescendo, they started to pepper in the singles from Sleeping With Ghosts. It was fantastic.
The main set ended with the only bum note of the night. "Special K," from Black Market Music, was a mess. There seemed to be a general lack of clarity. That song has about three hooks, and they all collided with one another, and the changes between them were nigh invisible. Plus, it sounded like they were rushing, cramming the song in and just getting it out of the way.
Things picked up for the encore. A dance-addled "Taste in Men" was transitioned into a kinetic "Slave to the Wage" by a quick snog between Stefan and Brian (hey, give the kids what they want). This was, of course, followed by the obligatory "Pure Morning," which gets more and more ragged. There's no need for perfection there anymore, to be honest. It's the big singalong, and that's all it needs to be.
I think the Crystal Ballroom assumed that was going to be it, because all the house lights came on before Placebo could start the last song. If they noticed, they made no sign of it, and unleashed their fantastic Pixies cover, "Where Is My Mind?" Oddly, it received the loudest cheers of the night, and the most audience participation. It's strange what fans will latch onto.
Current Soundtrack: Depeche Mode live in Los Angeles, 12-12-1998