Placebo made an announcement the day before their UK tour for fans attending their shows to refrain from filming or taking pictures to improve the experience between the band and audience, and to be in the moment (just like their previous shows in March). Placebo aren’t the first act to impose a phone band, Tool, Prince and Beyonce have also discouraged fans from doing the same at their shows. How would this affect their first night of the UK tour in Portsmouth?
The pop-punk three-piece Cruel Hearts Club had a decent turn out for their support slot that included ‘Suck It Up’ and a well-received cover of Tatu’s ‘All the Things She Said’. It was during their set that I noticed that the security at Portsmouth Guildhall had been given strict orders that no one could even take out their phones to take a selfie or text, even during the support act who had not released a similar statement as Placebo. As Cruel Hearts Club left the stage the screens on stage displayed the headliner’s statement once again and if that wasn’t enough, this was followed by an audible announcement followed by a round of applause. A large percentage were happy to comply, and I was curious to see if this would last for the entire show.
Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal entered the stage both dressed in black backed by four other tour musicians. Brian sporting a musketeer beard and Stefan with a gravity defying quiff, they are looking more like video game avatars with each tour. Kicking off with the new album ‘Never Let Me Go’ opener; industrial- esque ‘Forever Chemicals’ Placebo sounded great with Brian in fine voice. I kept an eye on the audience to see if they were reacting to having their free-hands, but apart from a few more handclaps during the quieter moments, one couldn’t really see much of a change. In the seated section any fan who stood up were asked to move downstairs or resist the temptation of moving to their favourite bands. It can be an uncomfortable experience being seated as in some shows the entire area stands and being courteous to not obstruct the view of those unable to stand for health or accessibility reasons.
Tonight, even if there was nobody sat behind you, you would be shut down in seconds. Tapping both legs became the best way to show your appreciation to the band, who themselves stayed pretty quiet throughout the set, which just like the last few months was aimed at promoting their new album playing 11 new songs.
A bold move, especially for a band who have fans from different eras. Apart from isolated areas of the crowd, there was little more than polite applause between the new tracks, though their latest album is a return to fame, it was obvious that less than a quarter of the audience was aware of them or showed disinterest. Previous singles ‘Beautiful James’ and ‘Surrounded by Spies’ with their hypnotic outro were highlights as well as ‘Sad White Reggae’ where Stefan, respectfully knelt down to play bass during the more emotional sections. They threw in a few old favourites: a warmly received ‘Bionic’ from their debut album as well as ‘Scene of the Crime’ but it was the second half of the show where they bought out the big guns- mainly Stefans white piano named ‘Liberace’ to play ‘Too Many Friends’, though I was unsure as to why the two keyboardists couldn’t have coped with performing the track.
The excess of rock n roll, stopped there as the stage was backed by half a dozen video screens, with simple lighting. Maybe the band is used to playing bigger venues, so we were offered the Placebo -lite stage design. Near the very end, Brian engaged with the crowd for the first-time to say that he was nervous due to the intimacy of the show if you can call 2,500 people intimate. It would have been to have seen the singer engage with the audience more as a reward for them sticking to the rules.
Placebo ended the show with a string of previous hits including a violin-led ‘Slave to the Wage’, ‘Infra-Red’ and ‘The Bitter End. Finally, the crowd were enjoying ‘the moment that the band promised, but all too late. Stefan promised us a “Friday night party” at times this felt like an awkward office night out. The encore consisted of two 80’s covers, Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, a couple of banging covers to be fair, but it felt kind of strange that a band would play two covers and leave out so many of their biggest hits, could we have not had ‘Nancy Boy’, ‘Every Me, Every You’ or even ‘Special K’? Placebo are great musicians with some of the finest songs from the last 3 decades but tonight made too many bad choices and the disappointment was audible as I left the show.
Hopefully, they will take the title of their latest single ‘Try Better Next Time’ to heart.
📸 Profile picture was taken from a stock page and not from the show.