Cult rockers battle the night

Sara Veal

For 15 years, alternative rock stars Placebo have set the music world alight with haunting tunes and unabashed debauchery.

Last Tuesday, Jakartans finally had the chance to see the naughty Nancy Boys in spectacularly acoustic action.

Since its 1994 formation in London, Placebo has gone through a number of line-up changes, but core duo Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal remain as front man and bassist/guitarist, respectively.

Drummer Steve Forrest is the newest and youngest member, completing the official trio, and Tennis Indoor Senayan saw live support from bass guitarist Bill Lloyd and musical Girl Friday Fiona Brice on the keyboards, electric violin and theremin.

Before a large screen with narrative video clips, the band got down to business with “For What It’s Worth”, the spunky first single from 2009’s Battle for the Sun.

Placebo’s newest and sixth album was very much the focus of the gig’s 21-song setlist. After a soaring, insistent “Ashtray Heart”, “Battle for the Sun” more than earned its title track status, with Forrest’s thudding beats, Olsdal’s feverish strumming, Molko’s impassioned vocals and Brice’s violin accompaniment conveying apocalyptic bewilderment.

It was then time for a slight step into the past, with the powerful “Soulmates”, a heavier version of 2003’s “Sleeping with Ghosts”, from the album of the same name.

“Thank you very much Jakarta!” said Molko, looking far younger and fresher than you’d expect for his 37 years, and the amount of pharmaceutical experimentation to which he has happily confessed, before launching into the tinkling and relatively upbeat “Speaking in Tongues”.

“Follow the Cops Back Home” (Meds, 2006) followed, sorrowfully transforming the mood, and then a rousing rendition of “Every You Every Me” (Without You I’m Nothing, 1998) inspired sing-alongs and wolf-whistles, setting the scene for “Special Needs”, on which Olsdal especially shone.

“Breathe Underwater”, sure to become a fan favorite, upped the ante even further.

“It’s very funny for us every time we go to a new country, with a new audience, I’m surprised that people like us so much, so thank you for giving us your love tonight,” said Molko, while the band readied for “Julien”, which he introduced as a “song that begins in the gutter and ends with an ascent into hell”.

Battle for the Sun
continued to take center stage with the fiery “The Never-ending Why”, plaintive “Come Undone” and anthemic “Devil in the Details”.

Molko’s willingness to talk and sing about drugs was showcased in the playful “Meds”, frenzied “Song to Say Goodbye”, and of course, “Special K” (Black Market Music, 2000), which garnered the most enthusiastic response of the night.

After electrifyingly delivering “The Bitter End” (Sleeping with Ghosts), Molko and co said their goodbyes and disappeared into the wings, as a disturbing video clip of a ballet-dancer became a poor replacement for the band’s charismatic stage presence.

But with appropriate commotion from the audience, the band triumphantly returned for a much-wanted encore.

As Molko resumed his inimitable serenade, a suddenly shirtless Forrest, revealing impressive ink, threw himself into the delightful “Bright Lights”, which was perfectly complemented by “Trigger Happy”, an unreleased number that paired clap-happy beats with anti-war lyrics.

During the groovy “Infra-red”, a sweaty Molko literally threw the towel in, to one lucky fan’s evident pleasure, before the band closed the night with the classic “Taste in Men”, ending on a gender-ambiguous note, to thunderous applause.

“I thought they sounded great,” said student Meli Sastro, 22, who was seeing Placebo live for the first time. “All of the band had great stage presence and Brian Molko was looking fine, and the bassist’s sparkly pants were lovely.”

Placebo enthralled their Jakarta audience without theatrics or pyrotechnics. The glam rockers still have that special something.


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