Concert Review: Placebo

The band came to Tel Aviv despite our daily reality and gave us a welcome respite from it.

placebo take a bow 311 (photo credit: Orit Pnini)
placebo take a bow 311
(photo credit: Orit Pnini)
Ganei Hata’aruha, Tel Aviv
June 5
‘We are Placebo from London, England, and we had the courage to get on a plane,” was Brian Molko’s way of introducing his band as he took the stage in Tel Aviv on Saturday. He later explained that he hated flying in general, but the crowd was already laughing and cheering him on, one proud soul waving an Israeli flag.
Placebo performed in Israel as part of the PicNic festival, originally scheduled to include Israeli New Yorkbased duo Hank ‘n Cupcakes, UK indie rockers The Klaxons, and audio-visual outfit Gorillaz Sound System. The two latter acts canceled their performances less than two days before the festival, possibly in the aftermath of Monday’s flotilla fiasco.
To Placebo and its fans, it didn’t matter.
Placebo – founded in London in 1994 by frontmansongwriter- guitarist Molko and Swedish bassist-guitarist Stefan Olsdal – has often been described as pretentious.
Molko’s songs are invariably dramatic, with supertight hooks and melodies. His lyrics usually hint at substance abuse and other forms of depravity, though listeners over the age of 15 will immediately spot that the band is about as threatening as its namesake. Meaning it’s pretty harmless, and it’s probably pretend.
But surprisingly, there were no pretenses on Saturday night. There was nothing fake about the first-rate show nor about Placebo’s admirable willingness to go through with it without caring that in the eyes of some, the group was taking a political stand merely by performing. Molko seemed honest and true to himself, addressing the crowd with warmth, wit and a bit of Hebrew – a far cry from his notorious persona of glitzy outfits, gender confusion and indiscriminate sex.
Placebo, refreshingly, doesn’t dwell on the past. It reinvents itself without looking back. Armed with Californian drummer Steve Forrest, who replaced longtime band member Steve Hewitt, the group recorded its sixth studio album, Battle for the Sun, in 2009. The album marked a divergence in the band’s career, and its overall positive message was apparent as Placebo churned out track after track in Tel Aviv.
Here and there, however, a bit of the old in-your-face Placebo shone through, in particular when during one of the first tracks – “Sleeping with Ghosts,” off the 2003 album of the same name – Molko enunciated the line “F**k the government” and gestured meaningfully to the crowd, eliciting whoops and cheers.
The setlist, predictably, mostly consisted of songs from Battle and Placebo’s previous effort, Meds. Many hits from the band’s first albums – the songs that catapulted it to popularity over a decade ago – were conspicuously absent.
That, too, just didn’t matter. Because Placebo’s show was set up as a festival experience. The crowd had the power, the unbridled hunger and enthusiasm; they pushed, shoved, clapped, chanted, obsessed over discarded drumsticks and guitar picks and hurled colorful balloons into the cool night air.
“The Bitter End,” a Placebo classic with a powerful pop-punk beat, was one of the highlights of the evening, though its dramatic climax was cut off in the live version. “Follow the Cops Back Home,” off 2006’s Meds, became a heartfelt ballad, with hundreds in the crowd swaying back and forth and singing along. “Trigger Happy,” the first encore, made the fans go wild.
“So we’re living in a culture made of death and fear/Doesn’t seem the human race will make it through the year,” the crowd sang with particular zeal, perhaps in light of recent events.
All three encores were brilliant picks. “Trigger Happy” was followed by the explosive “Infra Red,” which drove the crowd further into a frenzy. “Taste in Men,” a Sonic Youth and Depeche Mode-inspired track off the band’s third album, Black Market Music, concluded the evening and lent it a distinctly Placebo flair – sleazy for appearance’s sake, deliberately provocative, but musically speaking a direct hit.
Placebo came to Tel Aviv despite our daily reality and gave us a welcome respite from it. In this reviewer’s opinion, it was long overdue.