The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts November 10, 2006

Placebo Disappoints Fans in Cleveland

Despite being recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the best live performers of the past 100 years, Placebo put on a disappointing performance in Cleveland last Saturday.

From the joyous day when a routine check of the Ticketmaster website revealed that my favorite band would be performing in the US, within driving distance of Oberlin, no less, anticipation and excitement consumed me.

After all, the London-based trio hasn’t toured this continent in over three years and not even my wildest dreams could envision a stop in Cleveland. My thrill was heightened further when it was announced that She Wants Revenge would be opening, a band that I have recently grown to see as the epitome of sexual music. Needless to say, my expectations were high from the onset and escalated as the cherished day grew nearer.

Before I knew it, my friends and I were arriving at the Agora Theater in the seediest outskirts of Cleveland, waiting in line for five hours with a handful of equally devoted fans.

The venue itself was disappointing, lacking a coat check or a pleasant smell. The crowd gradually grew behind us and soon we were rushing through the open doors to the front of the stage. Cigarette smoke filled the air as the audience and I speculated about which songs Brian Molko (Placebo’s gorgeous, androgynous lead singer) would be delighting us with tonight.

She Wants Revenge appeared on stage and delivered a dazzling performance. The light show was especially brilliant, with strobes punctuating the dim red glow of the smoke-drenched stage. I would equate the sound to The Killers meets Joy Division, adding a unique element of eerie monotone.

Every song on their debut album was featured, including the catchy “These Things” and the sensual “Monologue.” It was obvious they were playing at the top of their game, achieving the difficult task of actually making the audience forget that they were not the main attraction.

I remembered this fact, however, when they concluded their act by stating: “Placebo wasn’t sure about the audience they would receive in Cleveland, but you guys rock.”

After forty-five minutes of agony, the lights dimmed and my heart skipped several beats. Brian Molko, Stephan Olsdal and Steve Hewitt emerged from the wings wearing matching black shirts and cocky expressions. Just being that close to the “ladies and gentlemen of Placebo,” as they wittily introduced themselves, was sufficient to make the night unforgettable.

The band immediately launched into a series of tracks from their new album, Meds. The first thing I noticed was that the lightshow paled in comparison to the preceding act, which struck me as odd because the lighting on their DVD concert Soulmates Never Die set international standards.

Whereas the DVD had featured thousands of spectacular effects, the Agora stage seemed perpetually drowned in boring blue light throughout their performance. The next thing I noticed was that the sound was lackluster, bass-heavy and so unlike the Placebo flawlessness I had grown to love. Granted, my front row position had the price of making me eat subwoofer, but that alone couldn’t account for the less-than-fabulous display.

As the band retraced their ten-year album history (with sizeable gaps), the audience could be seen losing attention and even showing signs of restlessness. “Special K” and “Sleeping with Ghosts,” two songs that require crowd participation, were unrecognized by many, sapping the band’s enthusiasm and likely precipitating the lack of an encore. After a mere 15 songs, which again was nothing compared to the 42-song array from the DVD, Placebo left the stage and my life without even saying goodbye.

I have been pondering justifications for the substandard act and two have come to mind. Given that this was Cleveland, and they had just played for 20,000 fans in Paris a week earlier, disappointment with the audience was obviously one factor. Another was the apparent boredom with their own songs, evident in the drastic adjustment of older tracks that made them almost unrecognizable to even as devoted a fan as myself.

Although it was not everything I hoped for, seeing Placebo live was still a positive experience. I still respect the songwriting and performing talent I know the musicians possess, even if they chose not to wow an apathetic Cleveland audience. After all, they have every right to save their energy and quality for those who truly appreciate their talent.

On the bright side, Brian Molko knows that there was at least one true fan in the crowd: he looked me right in the eyes and smiled when I was the only one singing along passionately to the melancholy “Song to Say Goodbye.”


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