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PLACEBO LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM – WHAT HAPPENED?

Well, it was a wonderful storm last night as Placebo returned to my hometown, although it was a big storm and one that could have quite easily caused the show to have been shut down. That was what was going through my mind as I drove down the M6 towards The O2 Academy in Birmingham.

The weather certainly didn’t put a dent in anyone’s determination to see their idols, as the queue I saw whilst driving past has to have been the most impressive queue I have seen for some time, after all, it was a sell-out. This rescheduled Placebo show, to much relief of the fans, happened regardless.

The fans must have queued in the storm, I even know of some that had been queuing since 9am having traveled from Europe to catch this show, that is true fan dedication, and after what I saw I am in no doubt as to why.

It has been nearly 23 years since I last saw Placebo at Reading 2000 (my first ever multi-day festival) and nearly 24 years since I saw them for the first time at Metallica’s Big Day Out in Milton Keynes, both fantastic sets from a fairly new band at the time, but a band I inadvertently lost touch with in the years following so I was really excited about seeing what I had been missing, was there anything in there for the casual fan like myself.

Getting into the venue it was only half full but you could feel the humidity already, it was certainly going to be a test of my stamina to see if I could endure the sticky conditions but, like the others, I was there to have (hopefully) an evening of awesome music and atmosphere.

The first act were another delve into new personal discoveries for myself in the shape of Cruel Hearts Club. A 3 piece band from, I believe, Derbyshire who are touring these dates with Placebo.

As usual. not knowing what to expect, I went into it with an open mind and I was rewarded for doing so. They kick the set off with “Sink This Low”, a song with a heavy nod to the era of Glam, a thumping beat with plenty of fuzz guitar/bass thrown in there before breaking into a huge chorus with magnificent vocal harmonies. Definitely a real stomper of a tune.

The crowd seemed well into it, heads bobbing, plenty of whoops, shouts, and whistles. The trio followed up with “Blame me too”, which had a bit of a Sleeper vibe mixed with grunge, and more fantastic harmonies, a huge sound coming from a 3 piece band is always something to appreciate.

The sound also reminded me of a band I had forgotten about called NY Loose, Cruel Hearts Club truly is fantastic. A bit of a curve ball was their cover of “All The Things She Said” by t.A.T.u. One of those earworm songs but it was fun to listen to.

“Dirty Rotten Scum” was next before they brought the pace down with a track called “Where Has The Summer Gone”, the vocal harmonies reminded me of The Bangles and Alishas Attic, it was sublime.

“Suck It Up” was the penultimate song, closing the set with “Hey Compadre” which has an into hook that sounded like an angry REM (Orange Crush) before flowing into a steady beat that got my foot tapping along with ease. I reckon Elastica fans would love them too.

If you like your music with a lot of variance filling the gaps between Glam, Indie, Punk and Grunge mixed with catchy pop hooks and fantastic harmonies (I can’t fault the vocal harmonies at all….did I mention the vocal harmonies?????) Then I reckon you will absolutely adore Cruel Hearts Club.

By this time the venue had filled to the brim, the sweat dripping from the ceiling, with the road crew setting up for the main act there was a trippy, electronic-based background selection playing, making a nice change from the usual selection of songs they choose to play.

About 10 minutes before Placebo took to the stage, a vocal recording of Brian Molko played, politely asking fans to not spend the show filming on their phones, this, they say, makes it harder for them to connect with the crowd and, rightly so, ruins the event for those behind the mobile cameramen.

It sounded like a true heartfelt request, ending with “Please be here and now in the present and enjoy the moment. Because this exact moment will never ever happen again. Our purpose is to create communion and transcendence. Please help us on our mission. With respect and love”

As Brian & Stefan walk on the stage the place goes absolutely wild, they take it in before kicking off proceedings with “Forever Chemicals”, which is something that sets the mood for the rest of the show. The crowd were in top vocal conditions, singing along as the smiles beam across the band’s face.

“Beautiful James” followed this, again the crowd singing almost as loud the system, in the pit it sounded epic. The stifling conditions didn’t put anyone off (it was honestly hotter than a sauna in there by this point).

When this finished we were ushered out of the pit and that was my cue to go and try to find a spot to enjoy the rest of the show, with try being the operative word. Being 5ft6 in a room of what seemed like giants and the event being a sell-out (even hearing quite a few questions as to if it had actually been oversold. Not the first time I have heard this about this venue either) it was hard to find a vantage point where I could see what was going on.

Luckily the sound was fantastic so I could still hear, and with the slightest glimpse of Brian and the amazing light show they had brought with them I settled against the bar to take what I could in (£2.80 for a bottle of water. Ouch!)

With what followed it was clear there was going to be a lot of material of theirs I hadn’t heard before, but with how the setlist had been planned out it became clear as to what the pre-show request meant about their mission “to create communion and transcendence” was about. It was a steady set, falling well within the transcendence part. I could liken the vibe to a decent Trance night, the energy flowing in such a way as to keep the whole vibe progressing in an upwards fashion.

The banter with the crowd was kept to a minimum, just before they played “Happy Birthday In The Sky” Brian addressed the crowd. “Looks like we made it, looks like you made it too”. Thanking the fans for their patience in waiting for this show to be rescheduled. Also, tell us about his French blood and joking he could “Strike, just like that….” or something along those lines.

Then it was back to the music, this set was a hefty 20-song set with a 3-song encore. Playing songs like “Twin Demons”, “Chemtrails”, “Meds”, “Come Undone” and the final song “Infra-Red”. Every fan in my sight seemed fixated, arms in the air. It was such a diverse crowd here, watching the band that Brian once said was a band “for outsiders, by outsiders”. It really did feel like a massive family in there and I can see why the fans are fiercely loyal and will travel continents to see them.

It was encore time. I knew they had done a cover of Tears For Fears “Shout” and when I first heard the recorded version I wasn’t too keen, I’m a huge TFF fan, not saying it was bad by any means, it was well done, just didn’t seem to have their own stamp on it, BUT the live version…..I was in awe, it was perhaps the best cover I have heard, with Stefan taking lead vocal duties and the crowd really giving it their all. They really did it justice.

“Fix Yourself” was the middle of the encore sandwich before the final one of the night, Placebo’s fantastic take on “Running Up That Hill”. It was touch and go as to if I stayed the distance last night, the conditions really getting to me with the sweat literally running down my face and back, considering (from what I could see from my far from perfect vantage point). The crowd was more swaying than moshing it was a true statement of how hot it was, but I’m glad I saw it through and witnessed a night of “Transcendence”.

Don’t leave it too long until you come back Placebo, I’ll be there for sure.

By the time of print, there remains one more UK gig, and that is at the Glasgow O2 Academy on Saturday 24th June so if you can, get yourselves to it. Further information can be found here

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