Placebo3@Newcastle O2 Academy, March 4 2015

Sold-out in advance. It’s a rarity in Newcastle these days but Placebo shifted their tickets for this hotly anticipated gig weeks in advance. In fact demand for this extensive tour far outweighed supply with eight complete sell-outs across the UK (including two London dates) still not enough to satisfy the appetite for a band back in fashion. And not before time. 

With that in mind, you could say the pressure was on. But Placebo endeared themselves to the masses before they even set foot on stage. Posed up Instagram pictures of the band next to the Tyne Bridge and with the Angel of the North set the mood. They also plastered all over Facebook a request for fans NOT to film the gig with smart devices so as to not ruin it for other people. The relief. Most obliged.

The neat setlist was near enough identical to the rest of the Loud Like Love Tour to date. A few songs have been rotated mid-set but they included all-time favourite Special Needs from what is surely their finest album (Sleeping With Ghosts) – albeit one of the band’s highly underrated records of that era.

The classics came thick and fast but it’s great that Placebo have confidence in their new material. They’ve never been a band for everybody but looking at their career trajectory it’s possible to see a very clear path of evolution.

Placebo started out young, angry and full of fuck – but even then they were still playing songs that were very experimental rock. Alternate tunings, atmospherics etc. set this special band apart from the norm. Three albums of growth gradually introduced more and more ambition – culminating in the outstanding Sleeping With Ghosts.

Meds then backed off a touch and went back to rock but since then they’ve really not been afraid to add prominent Hammond organs and pianos, harmonicas, the full works.

Significantly Placebo reflect this in the live band now. They started off as a three-piece, then added a touring bass player live so that Stefan Olsdal could shift over to guitar when the mood was right. In Newcastle the band was six-strong and all the better for it.

Brian Molko and Olsdal were joined by Bill Lloyd on bass, keyboards and piano – Fiona Brice on violin, keyboards and percussion, Nick Gavrilovic on guitar, lap steel and keyboards and stand-in drummer Matt Lunn. All were excellent – very talented musicians.

But Molko and Olsdal stood out. It was interesting watching the former stood stage left rather than front and centre. But it just goes to show that Placebo’s min man is more than happy in a partnership.

Olsdal went stage right and the others dropped in behind. Moloko was mesmeric throughout. Not in an odd way – he didn’t even particularly move about that much – but he was simply transfixing. Like a pied piper he commands adulation and admiration from his rapt devotees.

With the bulk of the setlist culled from the new album – and with such a back catalogue of songs to draw on – this was a BALLSY set.

A Million Little Pieces is as good as anything they’ve written but there was no need Purify – Placebo could have slipped something else in there. The set missed Pure Morning as there were a few slow ones that threatened to kill the mood.

By the end of the set they brought out the big guns: Special K and Bitter End closed the main show in thunderous form and the decision to include the cover of Running Up That Hill was genius. It was always a great B-Side but they do it so well and it’s just as good as the original.

Finishing on Infra-Red was a really cool choice. That – and the addition of Meds (both from the Meds album) in the main set – were well received by those in the know. It’s great that that album doesn’t get ignored.

This was a truly stunning show. In terms of production value it was a classic and the sound was the real deal. With six of them up on stage – all fighting for space amongst that sonic landscape they produce – it had the potential to be really muddy and horrible. It wasn’t. EASILY the best sound in the Academy for some time. Kudos to the sound guy. And well played Placebo.

Words and pictures by John Burrows @ishootgigs