Trinity 1998 Issue 6: Critical: Androg rock

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Cee Brandson comes over all shy and coy when she meets Brian Molko, the frontman of original Nancy Boys Placebo, in his first interview for over a year --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Goth scene may be a small one in Oxford's innumerable cliques and clubs, but they are out in force tonight. And they are all about 14. A sea of overly made up faces and black crocheted tops queue outside the Zodiac on a balmy Thursday waiting to see their all-new hero perform for the first time in about a year in this country.

Diminutive Brian Molko and his two compadres in Placebo take the stage eventually, to the delight of the small girls in big boots who have been standing at the front for the best part of two hours because they couldn't have got served in the bar anyway. He looks more like Courtney Love than ever and, considering her recent transformation to elegance, is the only fucked up icon these girls and boys have left.

No time for talk, they kick straight into Bionic, from 1996's electrifying eponymous debut album, and proceed to play what sounds scarily like a greatest hits set. The slightly disappointing, half-effort run through of 36 Degrees is demolished by the sonic onslaught of the next few numbers - a pre-album heavy song then the more melodic, more diverse new one, Allergic. The latter is one of the best songs they've ever done, laced through with a gunshot snare and feedback to pierce your eardrums. A return to well known album tracks follows with the frenzied, feedback-laden Bruise Pristine then the analgesic Lady of the Flowers, allowing everyone to pause for breath, retrieve their loosely tied Doc Martens and apply a little more pancake make-up.

But the reprieve is short lived when all hell breaks loose as Brian introduces last year's chart-storming single, Nancy Boy, with the words "I can't figure out why so many people like this song..."

Like so many bands, they are already bored with the tune that made their name. Still, on the evidence of tonight's performance, there are a fair few tunes waiting in the wings to usurp Nancy Boy's beautiful ass. Then they leave the stage. This is supposed to be a warm up gig but never has a crowd been left wanting so much more - no Hang On to Your IQ, no Come Home? A keyboard is set up amidst the stomping, clapping and chanting and Placebo return to the stage to play a new version of Teenage Angst. Slowed down to barely breathing and with a tripped out beat in the background, new depths are reached in the band's repertoire, making what used to be a stomp-along call to arms into a stratospheric ballad of anthemic proportions.

Such a huge, emotion-laden voice should not be in a man of Brian's size, nor a venue like the Zodiac. It fills the small space a million times over, causing hearts to develop a murmur and eyeliner to run. And it's all over, bar the instrument swapping noise-fest jam that traditionally ends Placebo gigs. The image many of the crowd will go home with tonight is that of Mr Molko fucking his bass slowly up against an amp stack in time with the feedback. An enduring picture to take back to their make-up free, middle class world. Mummy and Daddy would be so disapproving.

After a long wait, Brian emerges from the confines of the backstage party to sign autographs and chat to the few boys and girls still around. Having been chucked out of the venue, they wait on Cowley Road and so this is where he meets them, accepting lipsticks and politely declining invites to the pub. It seems like the perfect time to ask him about the new album, which he is more than happy to talk about. How is it sounding?

"It's finished, but I'm not sure when it's coming out. I wouldn't want to start any rumours." On the evidence of tonight, the sound is more diverse, more mature, so how does he see the way it has progressed? "It's harder for about a third of the album and the rest just sounds really emotional. It's about heartbreak." Recent heartbreak? But he doesn't take the bait. "The songs were written over the last six to 18 months. Just getting shit off our chests. It's more diverse and my voice is different - it's bigger, no more squeaking."

Sounds like things are looking bright for the future of Placebo, but there is one last thing to ask - and it's been said a hundred times before - his androgynous appearance. A boy who has travelled from the Welsh Valleys, shakily applying his lipstick all the way, asks "Do l look like you?" Diplomatically, Brian replies "No, not really. I stopped wearing black lipstick two years ago." Expect to see his new chosen shade adorning the lips of every baby Brian in time for what is bound to be their triumphant Glastonbury appearance.