Birthdays, and not just those on stage, bring a need to look back. In the case of London’s Placebo this is the case twice over, because they returned in Brno to songs that they have long avoided playing live. They kept their promise and at the Brno Exhibition Centre they gave a two-hour cross-section show.
They slyly avoided performing the profane Every You and Every Me live through the use of an introductory retrospective video. (It’s easy to understand: We don’t get to hear Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin each time live.) Even so the bands playlist was packed and the twenty-five songs contained their whole discography. There was at least one song from each studio album including the topical composition Twenty Years, already on their ‘Best of’ album for their first decade (Once More With Feeling). From the current anniversary compilation (A Place for Us to Dream) there was Jesus’ Son.
There is no point in naming everything they played as everyone has their favourites (the set list can be found here: setlist.fm). The important thing is that it all worked. The band managed an almost superhuman feat when in the heat of the enclosed hall they played one hit after another essentially continuously over two hours. The audience sung as a choir their favourite songs and everyone drew positive energy from each other. And it did not matter that it was far from being sold out nor that the hall was not completely darkened, meaning that those present partly lost out on the magic of their visual show. But this should of course be pointed out.
The projecting of the playing musicians as well as videos, was done in detail (with a number of cameras and visualisations) and all of it gave the concert a pleasant nostalgic pathos, as it should have been for a landmark anniversary of Placebo. For example in the projection for the song Without You I’m Nothing Placebo thematically paid tribute to their “discoverer” David Bowie and pictorially in their closing song The Bitter End, expressed their views on the current American president.
Sound-wise the concert was without any major problems and the acoustics of the exhibition space were surprisingly good, especially in the second half of the hall. It played up a bit in the higher range of Devil in the Details, but it was nothing fundamental that would affect the whole concert. In the sound all I missed was the punchiness of the drummer Steve Forrest, who left the group in 2015. Conversely the violins that were heard live in several of the songs added a pleasant touch of colour. At any rate none of the musicians, led by Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal, spared themselves when it came to physical effort and the same was true for those under the stage. Especially when, three quarters of the way through the concert Brian told the audience that they were finished with the melancholy part of the performance and that now it was time for a real birthday party and dancing. Emotions and the temperature were pushed even above their previous boiling point and the Brno line-up deserved the several encores they were asked for, including the popular cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Put simply: this birthday party was a success.
A small addition …
Twentieth birthday parties, or celebrations of the end of teenage years, mostly take place in a highly exuberant and unrestrained spirit. Of course when it is the twentieth birthday of a group this means that both the band and its fans have matured a little from their carefree youth (in earlier times Brian would not have used the address “ladies and gentleman” so often. But that doesn’t matter because all of us are happy, at least for a while, to return to that age. The disadvantage for the organisers is that the fan-base has few school-age kids willing to wait all afternoon for their idols so as to be able stand right below the stage. Experienced working people tend to turn up on time or even a little late, counting on the official start being an hour earlier than the reality. And then it can happen that there is a queue standing in front of the hall at the entrance and you miss the support band and maybe even the start. Because this time the organisers did not prolong anything but rather the reverse. The support band Niceland was finished by 7.30 p.m. and the advised entrance of Placebo at 8.15 p.m. was brought forward by 30 minutes. So I hope that most people had found their seats by then, but they probably didn’t manage to also get a beer.