Review Summary: Though a couple of the new songs drag it down, oh so slightly, it's still an epic performance with every bell and whistle you could hope for. I am converted.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Say what you will about Placebo; the group receives (and occasionally deserves) flak about nearly every aspect of its existence, from its derivative sound to the publicity-baiting androgynous appearance and behaviour of frontman Brian Molko. But this concert DVD, released in the wake of a sadly underwhelming fourth album ‘Sleeping with Ghosts’, is truly an experience to behold, expertly capturing the excitement and energy of a live performance for the benefit of those unable to experience it firsthand. Nearly everything about the show, from the excellent setlist to the pitch-perfect vocals, smacks of experience and professionalism, and makes for riveting viewing for both the fans and the uninitiated.
It begins with a slick, fast-paced backstage look at the band preparing for the show, before cutting to drummer Steve Hewitt getting to work behind a translucent curtain on the mainstage. The crowd’s anticipation builds with every thump of the drums, as the silhouette of bassist/guitarist Stefan Olsdal appears before the dimmed lights. The opening chords of the pounding instrumental Bulletproof Cupid come in, to a deafening response from the massive audience, kicking off the performance in earnest. The superb lighting effects, seamlessly synchronized with the music, immerse the audience (at 16,000 strong) into the show further, fully justifying the warnings for epileptics on the DVD cover; the strobe effects fused with the band’s electro-tinged riffs create the effect of being in a discotheque rather than a concert hall at times. Indeed, the effects are often so good it makes one wonder if the performance would have been nearly as powerful without it, as Placebo’s neo-glam style demands a style of presentation that’s as grandiose as it is sleek. Some may have quibbles with the camera work, though. While professional and steady, it doesn’t stay on one angle for more than three seconds, and fans wanting to see extended shots of their favourite band members may have to make do with the bundled documentary instead. I had no problem with it, though. The footage is also altered occasionally to provide a fuzzed-out visual effect during performances of some of the songs. I’m guessing this was done to achieve an arty low-budget look, though it can come off as unnecessarily pretentious to the no-nonsense viewer.
None of this detracts from the extraordinary performance skills of the band, however. From the moment Brian Molko breaks into the first lines of ‘Allergic’, a new depth and maturity is evident in his voice, and while this may be slightly off-putting to fans of his feminine (admit it) whine, it comes off marvelously well, and loses none of its urgency on crunching numbers like ‘Bionic’ and ‘Plasticine’. Stefan Olsdal alternates between lead, rhythm and bass guitars, and sounds spot on with every one of those instruments. A keyboardist is used on several tracks, as are a third and fourth guitarist. Crowd response is never anything short of incredible, perhaps owing to the fact that the Luxembourg-educated Molko and Olsdal interact with the audience in French, and even perform a moving version of ‘Protect me from what I Want' entirely en francais. Several middling tracks from their catalog are given a revamped sound live: the otherwise dull ‘Black-Eyed’ is given a bouncy new makeover, and the cheesy ‘Taste in Men’ is performed with a darkly sexy vibe, giving it the menace that was desperately lacking on the recorded version and making it one of the highlights of the show. The exceptional cuts sound even better: ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ is sublime in its quiet melancholy, while ‘Every you, Every me’ pulses with a hyperkinetic energy.
The concert and the documentary can both be credited with giving the band a more personable image; rather than playing up the too-cool-for-school image the group is normally associated with, it shows the band as surprisingly down-to-earth with a clever sense of humour, and above all, a desire to entertain their fans. This is as evident in the rousing ‘Gra-vity, no escaping gra-vity’ chorus of ‘Special K’, sung by Molko, Olsdal, and a few thousand dancing fans as it is in the hilarious impromptu dance moves of Olsdal during the electronic opening beats of ‘English Summer Rain’. A noisy, droning performance of the crowd favourite, Pure Morning and a gloomy rendition of an equally brooding track, Centrefolds, sets the tone for a thrilling finale. Molko, grinning from ear to ear, delivers a brief bi-lingual farewell speech of sorts, his voice struggling to be heard among the masses still screaming their approval. Appearing both nervous and excited, he introduces Frank Black on stage before launching into their swan song, a flawless cover of the Pixies’ classic ‘Where is my Mind’ with Mr. Black on guitar and co-vocal duties. While it seems as though the crowd is mostly unfamiliar with the song, by the close of the show, few are seen not singing along to the chorus as the camera pans over the entire arena, giving the viewer a better idea of the sheer size of the crowd. The concert closes with that stunning image, and it’s the perfect ending to an unequivocally extraordinary show.
Before seeing this, I knew little of Placebo aside from their single. Live in Paris 2003 got me to check out the rest of their catalogue, and while generally mediocre (with the exception of the excellent ‘Without You I’m Nothing’), the picks selected for this performance are likely to appease even the harshest of critics. I cannot recommend this DVD enough; it’s a shame that the quality of their recorded material cannot match the consistency and excitement of their live show.
(first published on Epinions, March 5, 2005).