Doncaster Dome is among the strangest gig venues you’ll come across – a 1980s leisure complex with bizarre circular atriums and a disorientating mix of overhead walkways and spiral staircases with swimming pools and children’s rides underneath. Gigs take place in the main sports hall and for Placebo the place starts filling up early on Tuesday, October 10th.
First up were Husky Loops. When their name was projected on the screen at the back of the stage everyone assumed that it was a typo, but it wasn’t. There are enough breakfast cereal related jokes on the internet reviews of their EP so shan’t stoop that low.
They’re from Italy via London and are a band to watch out for, with a sound that’s a deliriously angular blend of rock with samples and pop themes, with an unexpected changes of pace and an approach to rhythm that owes a big debt to hip-hop. They make eclecticism sound like a genre. At any point it seemed like their music could break in any direction, and by the end of their set they’d certainly made a lot of new friends in Doncaster. They got one of the biggest rounds of applause I’ve ever heard for a support band that nobody had heard of half a dozen songs back.
It’s the ‘20 Years Of Placebo’ Tour, so fingers were crossed for a serious greatest hits show with maybe just a little bit of unashamed nostalgia in the mix, and things looked good when the show kicks off with a video version of “Every You Every Me” before the live show opens with “Pure Morning”.
This is one of those early songs that the band has expressed misgivings about in the past, (along with “Nancy Boy”, which made an appearance later in the night; it hasn’t featured in a set list for more than ten years), but this night they see to have put their uneasy relationship with their early material to one side, and all our favourites were present plus lots more, including plenty of relative obscurities and non-album cuts.
As Molko said when the tour was announced, “Let’s just say there will be songs in the set that I’ve sworn never to play again. I think it’s time that we purposefully acknowledged what a lot of Placebo fans really want to hear. They’ve been very patient with us since we rarely play our most commercially successful material. A 20-year anniversary tour seems like the right time to do so. That’s our intention.”
They were not content to dwell exclusively on distant glories either – there were as many songs from 2013’s Loud Like Love (QRO review) as there were from their eponymous 1996 breakthrough.
At a time when gender fluidity is pretty much the norm rather than a cause for outrage, Placebo have the air of pioneers with whom the world had finally caught up, and there was no politics between songs, not even a “What kept you?” In fact there wasn’t much chat of any kind, but nobody was complaining as the band delivered a set of breathtaking intensity that shook every grey plastic Lego brick in the bizarre seventies architecture of the Doncaster Dome.
Picking favourites from a set like this is a tough call, but “Soulmates” had a wonderfully off kilter swagger and gave Brian Molko the chance to really lean into the lyric. “Special Needs” was louder than I remember it being and came drenched in feedback-laden guitar. “For What It’s Worth” was so heavy with reverb you could have sworn there was a couple of jaws harps and a didgeridoo in the mix.
The late David Bowie, an early supporter of the band (an even earlier pioneer of gender fluidity), also made an appearance on the video backdrop for “Without You I’m Nothing”, greeted by cheers of affection from the faithful. “Special K” (which got a huge welcome of course) got a reassuringly inappropriate up-tempo treatment as ever, and “Song To Say Goodbye” was as twisted and merciless as ever. The show ends with an encore of “Infra-Red”, “Nancy Boy” and a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”.
With the band on this kind of form we’ll be looking out keenly for the next new album. Placebo are clearly not ready to hang up their instruments yet for a while.