Review: Placebo Brings an Intimate Arena Mentality to the Salt Shed
Placebo formed in 1994 and made a distinctive mark early in their career as a heavy guitar pop act with a true glam rock edge, alongside a daring-for-its-time fluid sexuality that added an enticing in-your-face aspect to the group’s pubic image. In the almost 30 years since then, Placebo continued to churn out strong albums of music that rarely veered too far from their initial formula. Hooks, dark desires, and singer/guitarist Brian Molko’s strong and clear vocal style have remained intact, with a few minor adjustments from album to album reflecting the band’s current interests. Overall though, Placebo has been remarkably consistent, and that can cause people to take talent for granted.
So I was deeply curious to see the band’s performance at the Salt Shed last Friday, especially since the last venue I saw the band play was Double Door in 2001. While that was an amazing show, despite being in a much smaller venue and closer to the band’s days as hit-makers, it was still not exactly packed. You can imagine why sticking them in a venue that could fit about 3,600 people, when their U.S. popularity might have waned even more since 2001, seemed odd to me.
While Placebo didn’t fill the Salt Shed to capacity, there was a healthy-sized crowd there to see them Friday night, and it became apparent very early on that since the band is used to playing much larger venues to much, much larger crowds, we were going to get an arena-sized show with no punches pulled. Placebo was excited to be here and they were not going to dial down the energy one whit.
Placebo wasn’t going to rest on its laurels either, and elected instead to deliver a proper concert tour stop as if they’d never stopped visiting the U.S. with a set pulling half of its 22 songs from the band’s 2022 release Never Let Me Go. This meant that attendees probably didn’t see many of their “favorite” songs, since the band’s U.S. hits emanated from earlier albums Placebo seems to have justifiably little interest in revisiting. So this current show plays like a European stadium tour, opting to focus on fans who have followed the band’s entire career up to the present day instead of catering to people’s nostalgia for a single era.
The remainder of the set nodded to prior hits, but from a global view, skipping over a handful of songs the casual fan might have hoped to hear. But I’ll never ding a band for refusing to pander, and asking Placebo to be anything other than what they are in that current moment would probably only result in less investment live from the band. So you might not have heard “the hits” but you did get an excellently balanced set that showed Placebo is very much a vibrant, living organism set on ceaselessly moving forward.
Molko stalked the stage looking like a sexy pirate, dark locks framing his mustachioed face, while other founding member Stefan Olsdal played bass, guitar, and piano all the while somehow assuming heroes action poses through it all. The duo seemed ecstatic to see so many friendly faces returning the passion the band delivered right back at the stage, while a phalanx of touring musicians augmented the sound from the rear of the stage. And while perusal of this tour’s unchanging set lists suggests a show constructed to tell a particular story about this moment in the band’s career, that didn’t rob the players from a spontaneous and infectious energy that filled the venue.
Hopefully it doesn’t take Placebo another decade to visit Chicago, because I would certainly like to get back into the band’s regular touring rotation instead of checking in with them a decade at a time. Last Friday’s show only strengthened that desire for me, and would hopefully give you a chance to catch a band whose powers haven’t diminished at all.
All photos by Shaela Johnston