Oh, if only all my concert experiences were like the Placebo gig on Thursday night – the third in a series of short-notice Mercedes A-Class promo shindigs where tix could only be won, not purchased (there was a super secret squirrel identification process involving giving away all your personal details, the life of your first-born child, plus your right to a spam-free mailbox for life), with free bubbles, vodka drinks, beer, yummy nibbles, and then, more importantly, FREE MOLKO, OLSDAL AND FORREST. Yes, please! My inner fan girl was unashamedly out to play that night.
From a rather excellent vantage point in the front row* (thank god, a barrier for these old bones to lean on), after quaffing drinks and food we were subjected to a perplexing 20-minute advertising spiel about the new Mercedes A-Class car – 15 minutes of spiffy visuals and ambient music, then 4 minutes of pics of the actual car and a voice-over delivering the specs, then 1 minute of interspersed backstage Placebo footage. Surreal – it felt a bit Tron (the starkly neon visuals), a bit David from Prometheus (the curiously devoid-of-emotion voiceover) , and a bit Winterhilfe Schweiz**, and even weirder knowing that we were a captive audience being blatantly marketed to. Perhaps some form of subliminal advertising/stimuli? Well, if I feel an uncontrollable urge to go out and spend my life savings on a Mercedes next week I’ll let you know.
The loopy strains of ‘LeeLoo’ started the evening proper; The Molko and his band of merry men and one woman made their way on stage and proceeded to sweat and storm their way through four songs from 2009′s Battle For The Sun as an opener. ‘Soulmates’ was followed by new cover song ‘I Know You Wanna Stop’, from 90s indie rockers Minxus, which was a welcome diversion from their usual setlist, nicely bassy and guitar-heavy. ‘Black-Eyed‘, ‘Meds’ and ‘Bright Lights’ were highlights – I can’t help but love the cheesy pop spirit of ‘Bight Lights’, and ‘Black-Eyed’ has such a great sing-along chorus. And The Molko always kills it on ‘Meds’ when he sings ‘I was alone, falling free, trying my best not to forget…’.
By the time ‘The Bitter End’ rolled around, there were bucketloads of sweat flying around on stage – it was insanely hot in in the audience, and I suspect the searing stage lights made it super uncomfortable and possibly unbearable up on stage. But nonetheless, there were smiles and little gestures of appreciation between Stef and Brian, and the other band members. Drummer Steve Forrest was on fire – blond hair flying, tattooed muscles working, huge smile, beating his drum kit to within an inch of its life – wow, that boy can drum. At the end of the gig he very sweetly came over and gave one of his sticks to the guy next to me, a drummer himself who had been air-drumming along with Steve throughout the gig.
Perhaps the heat was the reason why the (usually three or four song) encore was cut short to just two songs – ‘Infra-Red’ and ‘Taste In Men‘. Whatever the reason, I was sad not to hear ‘Post Blue’, from because it’s one of my favourites, from 2007′s Meds, and even sadder to realise that this special, intimate gig was over. It’s rare to get to see Placebo in such a small venue – I’m guessing there were around 500 people, not too crowded, which was nice compared to a standard Placebo gig (a cast of thousands, pushing, shoving, etc etc). And of course, The Molko never disappoints – although he (as per usual) uttered only a few words throughout the entire gig, he seemed to be in a good (if sweaty) mood, and hey, when the Princess is happy, everyone is happy. The whole band gave a tight and polished set, which was a privilege to see up close and personal from my front row spot.
Afterwards, a DJ was playing some very loud music, which had the opposite effect to that intended – it emptied the dance floor in no time at all. Well, everyone was too busy getting their photo taken in front of a giant-sized Molko, Olsdal and Forrest anyway. One final glass of bubbles and some chatting with lovely friends, then we were out into the cool night air and home.
Setlist: LeeLoo (intro)/Kitty Litter/For What It’s Worth/Battle For The Sun/Ashtray Heart/Soulmates/ I Know You Wanna Stop (Minxus cover)/Every You Every Me/Special Needs/Speak In Tongues/Black-Eyed/Meds/Bight Lights/Teenage Angst/Song To Say Goodbye/Bitter End. Encore: Infra-Red/Taste In Men.
*I’ve spoken before about the responsibilities and perils of being in the front row – you’ve got to show the artists some good feedback, you can’t just sit back and passively enjoy from the front row – oh no, the onus is on you to at least pretend you are enjoying the show, cos the band can see you and thus there is a nice little feedback loop of appreciation that goes on thus between audience and artist. On this night there was also the ever-present danger of ending up permanently on film somewhere – Placebo’s resident documentary film-maker, Charlie Targett-Adams, was on hand with a mountain of gear and spent the entire concert filming from various angles with various cameras, and other photographers were circling around shoving gigantic lenses into our faces at every opportunity. Did I mention that a condition of accepting the ticket invitation was consenting to be filmed and allowing our images to be used in commercial distribution without payment or copyright? But I’m not complaining, really :)
** Let me explain. In 2011 the organisation Winterhilfe Schweiz (it helps the poor and disadvantaged in winter), used this poster as its key advertising image – exactly the same fluorescent tubes arranged in almost exactly the same way together that Mercedes have used in their A-Class advertising. Oh dear. An unfortunate, incongruous juxtaposition of imagery that only served to highlight the over-the-top luxury of the event and the brand. I guess only Swiss people would have noticed, so it won’t really affect Mercedes’ marketing strategy in the rest of Europe, but ahem, not the kind of mix-up of associations you want when you are trying to capture a new market.
- Mercedes-Benz ‘A ROCK’ Placebo Concert Rome – Recap (highsnobiety.com)