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Placebo – Les Ardentes Festival, Belgium

Placebo arrive at Les Ardentes Festival as part of their ‘20 Years Of…’ tour. That’s quite an accomplishment. For an alternative rock act to carve out a career spanning two decades is testament to their individuality, not to mention a canny knack for a killer tune. For the last couple of years the band has focused on retrospective material, gigging to promote their A Place for Us to Dream compilation. Tonight’s set reflects that with a heavy emphasis on the ‘greatest hits’ aspect. Nothing unusual there for a Festival but not always the case for a headlining act.

They take the stage in ascending order to allow mainstays Stefan Olsdal and Brian Molko their respective ovations. ‘Pure Morning’ is the opening song with its grinding guitars sounding like the turning of enormous gears. A massive hit worldwide and crowd-pleaser, ‘Pure Morning’ makes for a safe bet to kick start your show. They follow up with a series of more ‘modern’ songs.’ Loud Like Love’, the title track of the last studio album gives way to ‘Jesus Son’ the newly recorded single to promote A Place For Us To Dream. They flip back to the ‘Soulmates Never Die’ version of ‘Sleeping With Ghosts’ before ripping into a startling rendition of ‘Special Needs’ It’s a good start, a nice mixture of classic and contemporary Placebo.

Lighting and visual effects add a whole other dimension. The stage backdrop consists of three, (sometimes four) video feeds blending footage from this evenings performance with old video imagery. It’s well filmed and extremely well edited allowing the crowd further back to appreciate some of the stagecraft on display. Surprisingly this is more down to Olsdal than Molko. The Stefan Olsdal that you see in the music videos is basically what you get live but the same cannot really be said of Molko. Our frontman had already downplayed his entrance and he continued tonight’s set with dedicated professionalism. We got polite ‘thank you’s from Molko but not much else. When the cameras caught him he seemed to be in an internalized state somewhere between focused and haunted. Tonights rock posturing came more from the Swede who relishes wringing his slender, muscular frame into all manner of classic poses.

After the strong opening there then followed a slight lull. ‘Too many Friends’ is fine in a live setting but ‘Twenty Years’ and ‘Exit Wounds’ are questionable choices to my mind. ‘Twenty Years’ has no justification for inclusion in a set like this, save for the ‘20 years of…’ angle. Actually the song was written for inclusion on the Once More With Feeling singles compilation way back in 2004 so its connection to ‘20 Years of Placebo’ is tenuous to say the least.’ Exit Wounds’ remains a fine song in itself. I just feel as though the cluster of tracks from the Loud Like Love era had a few of the more casual Placebo fans aching for something that they knew. To be fair, whatever songs Placebo chose to play, there would have to be something else left out. Tonight’s ‘miss list’ is an impressive one though. ‘Every Me Every You’, ‘Come Home’, Taste In Men, ‘This Picture’ and ‘Burger Queen’ were all conspicuous by their absence. It didn’t really matter. The set was highly impressive anyway.


To my mind, Placebo fall into that category of band who don’t really change a great deal. Nor need to. No reinvention of the wheel from the London based act. Why should they? They have a formula that works. If it ain’t broke …. There was a moment early on in their career where I thought “I don’t really need to collect any more Placebo albums”. I felt that the two I already owned were enough. Wrong! The band released the deliriously good ‘Slave To The Wage’ and I was duly obligated to pick up the terrific Black Market Music. Without You I’m Nothing probably remains the bands high water mark but Black Market Music makes for a darkly, seductive follow-up. Surely I could stop there? Not a bit of it. ‘The Bitter End’ basically marched me back to the record store to pick up fourth album Sleeping With Ghosts. And so it continued. ‘Song To Say Goodbye’, from Meds is an absolute ‘must have’ and arguably one of their greatest ever songs. A distinct pattern emerged.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in

Placebo’s recording career may have slowed somewhat in their second decade (only one album since 2009’s Battle For The Sun) but the band has continued to tour and to put in Festival performances like todays. Highlights for me included the aforementioned ‘Slave To The Wage’, ‘Song To Say Goodbye’ and ‘Special Needs’. There was extra poignancy on ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ which was clearly dedicated to David Bowie.

“I seem to lose the power of speech,
You’re slipping slowly from my reach.
You grow me like an evergreen,
You’ve never seen the lonely me at all
Take the plan, spin it sideways.
Without you, I’m nothing.
Without you, I’m nothing at all.”

The lyrics, Molko’s heartfelt performance together with back projections of images of Brian and David laughing together made for an emotive experience.

The rest of the evening went in the blink of an eye. Suddenly the band were wrapping up ‘Infra Red’ and taking their curtain call. It felt too fast but it is also the sign of a great show where the songs were the real stars. They returned for their notorious version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ but no more than that. Off they were gone.

Article first appeared in All Around Luna.
Words: Brett Spaceman
Photographic art: Carine Hubrechts

For more from Carine please visit All Around Luna site. Link provided.

All Around Luna