Brian Molko brings his ‘song for Scotland’ home as PLACEBO showcase latest album NEVER LET ME GO at Glasgow’s O2 Academy.

It’s hotter than Hell in a heatwave, but tonight’s support act Friedberg send a breath of fresh air through the smog of sweat with their cowbell-fringed indie rock. Fronted by Austrian singer-songwriter Anna Friedberg, the London-based four-piece breeze through moody cuts such as Pass Me On and Better Than We Are, as well as more experimental numbers like the frenzied Midi 8, from 2021’s EP Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, stacked with vibrant synth-heavy beats.

Placebo’s Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal receive a welcome as massive as their sound on this rescheduled Scottish date as Molko cries “we’ve finally made it back to the motherland!” With brutal waves of caustic discord rolling in on opening number Forever Chemicals, from last year’s Never Let Me Go, their first album in nine years sees them return to a darker corner, uninhabited since 2006’s Meds. Exploring new elements, surges of synth both soothe and scathe between sweeping layers of savage guitar, as astute lyricism seeps into the alcoves of our psyche to unlock the discontent many of us feel on a personal and global level. And it’s this very ability to shine a dusky light on the hypocrisies of life that’s been the connecting force behind Placebo and their fans since 1996’s single Nancy Boy brought them to the attention of the masses, this new collection lending a gentle hand while the listener finds their own interpretations, making the songs their own. 

The swirling synth of Never Let Me Go’s reflective lead single Beautiful James uplifts, an appeal to live and let live which resonates with the crowd, while Scene Of The Crime from 2013’s Loud Like Love sees Olsdal instigate a clap along, the sea of arms a magnificent sight, though I hope everyone’s had a generous squirt of deodorant earlier… Back to the new album, Molko’s spirited delivery of Hugz paints a bold picture of self-doubt, his intensity offset by Olsdal’s effortless cool while the haunting desolation of Happy Birthday In The Sky captivates, Molko’s vocals bleeding an unrestrained vulnerability as he sings a song of grief.

Tonight’s set list leans heavily on the new album which, as always, gives rise to a few moans from those stuck in their nostalgia tunnel, but with their last tour being a 20th anniversary celebration, the band clearly saw this one as an opportunity to look towards the future rather than rerun the past. And let’s face it, when you’ve recently released your first album in nine years, and such a fine one at that, why on earth would you not want to show it off? 

Of course a few old favourites do make the final cut, including The Bitter End from 2003’s Sleeping With Ghosts and Bionic from their self-titled debut which thrills as Olsdal takes centre stage, his brooding bass intoxicating, tonight this song more gloriously full-bodied than it was back in 1996, the euphoric, melodic glides of Molko’s guitar sending me straight back to the 90s with a welcomed shiver in the sweltering heat. 

Molko admits he’s had some criticism over lack of conversation with his audiences in the past and tonight engages enthusiastically, giving a shout-out to the trans and non-binary members of the audience, while reminding us all that trans rights are human rights. And there’s even more chat when he tells the delighted crowd that although he’s only 50% Scottish, he’s 100% behind Scottish independence, later airing his utter repulsion at how we’ve been governed against our will for 13 years by that “elitist, sociopathic” shower in Westminster. Way to go, Brian! 

Keeping with the Scottish theme, Sad White Reggae throws an upbeat electro-groove against a poetic melancholy which draws us into a track Molko’s described as his “song for Scotland”. Like the crowd, he’s loving every minute as he bigs up the lines “I’m stuck on a train / heading for Scotland”. Although his family moved around a lot during his childhood, he’s alway stated that he grew up in Dundee, where his mother’s believed to be from, perhaps explaining his uncanny ability to morph from menace to minx. As he sings “And every river flows / Back to Dundee” the crowd breaks into an applause, and it’s evident he’s been waiting a very long time to bring this song home.

Brian Molko of Placebo | Pic: Calum Mackintosh

Try Better Next Time, another of the new tracks, offers up an addictive doze of classic Placebo vibes which energise the crowd, even though the song ponders bleak outcomes of the climate crisis. The Bitter End and 2006’s punchy Infra-red end the set, giving the fans a splash of that nostalgia they crave. They’re soon back on for a three song encore and after some technical difficulties, Molko tells us it’s time to protest with Tears For Fear’s Shout, closing a fabulous evening of old and new with their beguiling, slow-tempo take on Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, which they originally covered back in 2003. 

As they head out of the motherland for their next tour date in Dublin, we hope they remember that as well as all rivers, on a good day our public transport network also saunters to Dundee, and we hope to welcome them back there soon.

Words: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie
Pictures: Calum Mackintosh@ayecandyphotography