Very few bands have divided opinion as much as Placebo, so it's to their credit that they've lasted nearly a quarter of a century. While booking an arena tour was always going to be ambitious at best for a band who've not released an album in three years or troubled the UK top ten since 2009, their feverish bordering on obsessive fanbase remain as rabid as ever.
Indeed, many have stood queuing outside Nottingham's Motorpoint Arena for hours before the doors opened and it will be a further two before Brian Molko and co. take to the stage. Which is just as well for tonight's (and this tour's) support Minor Victories. Having released one of this year's finest debuts and wowed audiences both home and abroad with their intense and exceptionally loud live show, this tour presents them with an opportunity to convert several thousands of unassuming punters to their sonic belligerence. While both Stuart Braithwaite and Martin Doherty are absent this evening on recording duty with Mogwai, their replacements prove formidable, in particular Victories At Sea drummer Nick Willes who is something of a raging beast behind the kit. Standing centre stage, singer and occasional guitarist Rachel Goswell proves a focal point as 'Give Up The Ghost' kicks their set into life. With its industrial guitar sound and epic chorus it grabs the attention of several thousand Placebo fans forthwith. And from that moment on, there's no turning back. 'Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)' and 'Folk Arp' stand out, the latter bringing the set to a tumultuous close. While it must be difficult for anyone to open for a band with such partisan fans as Placebo, tonight was undoubtedly a major success for Minor Victories.
For a band that put out their first album in 1996, this twentieth-anniversary tour - or "birthday party" as Brian Molko declares it several times from the stage - is not only testament to the band's longevity but a popularity that's never really waned on the live front at least. Beforehand, a poignant tribute to Leonard Cohen introduces the main set as 'Who By Fire' is played over a montage of projections on the big screens either side of the stage. This is then followed by the video for 'Every You Every Me' - the second time that's played before Placebo take the stage and the last we'll hear of it this evening, which is perhaps bizarre considering its singles chart placing of 11 in 1999 hasn't been bettered by any of the band's 45s since. Also conspicuous by their absence from the setlist this evening are their first two releases 'Bruise Pristine' and 'Come Home', both having played pivotal roles in breaking and establishing the band two decades ago, while 'You Don't Care About Us', another of the band's biggest chart successes from their Without You I'm Nothing era, also failed to make the cut.
But rather than focus on those omissions, what Placebo managed to deliver over the course of two hours is a twenty-five song set spanning their entire career. And while some people's favourites were left out, there were more peaks than troughs in what remained. Opening with 'Pure Morning', a song that defined their most successful commercial spell, the band hit the ground running with commanding aplomb. Having been a six-piece live band for some time, Molko and fellow founder member Stefan Olsdal joined by multi-instrumentalists Bill Lloyd and Nick Gavrilovic, violinist and keyboard player Fiona Brice, and drummer Matt Lunn, not to mention one of the most incredible visuals and lights shows we've witnessed in some time, Placebo bare all the hallmarks of your stereotypical stadium rock band. However, their most endearing quality is the way they've challenged and broken down stereotypes, particularly where gender and sexuality are concerned. While 'Nancy Boy' (unsurprisingly saved for the encore) may have been the first and only song about drug induced homosexual activity to grace the top five of the UK charts, they've continually pushed open the barriers when it comes to challenging homophobia and when Molko welcomes the crowd by saying "Good evening ladies, gentlemen and those who are in between", his incredibly respectful address is greeted by loud cheers all around the arena.
Because that sense of community generated by the band among its fanbase has undoubtedly been one of the keys to Placebo's survival. So while 'Space Monkey' off 2006's Meds or 'For What It's Worth' from 2009's Battle For The Sun might not rank highly with most casual fans, they're communal singalongs here for those who've gathered to join in the twentieth-anniversary celebrations. 'I Know' and 'Lady Of The Flowers' from their self-titled debut receive a welcome airing, as does '36 Degrees', albeit in a slightly refined rather than boisterously loud manner. Ending the main set with a double whammy of 'Song To Say Goodbye' and 'The Bitter End', themselves preceded by 'Special K' and 'Slave To The Wage', it's worth noting just how many huge anthems Placebo contain in their arsenal.
So while the aforementioned 'Nancy Boy' and fellow early single 'Teenage Angst' make up two-thirds of the first encore, it's a disappointing anti-climax that they choose a cover of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' to close the evening rather than one of their own compositions. Nevertheless, with the high points far outweighing the lows, it's fair to say Placebo have plenty of life left in them yet. Here's to the next twenty years...