It would have been real easy to play the Kevin Bacon game at the Hudson Theater in New York on Thursday (Nov. 5), except that the fodder for the six degrees of separation would be Virgin recording artists Whale, Gomez, and Placebo (it was Virgin's CMJ showcase, after all), not the reluctant actor. It goes something like this: Show openers Whale are from Sweden, which connects them with Placebo bassist and fellow Swede Stefan Olsdal, who stands just to the right of Placebo's English drummer Steven Hewitt, who then connects with all five members of Gomez, who all hail from dear old Blighty. As for the music? Well, that wasn't quite so smooth.
Whale's gorgeous, hobo humpin' slobo babe Cia Soro appeared clad in sparkling, low-riding hip-huggers, a bikini-style top, and an ever- so- sexy cowboy hat, thus immediately snagging the early arrivals' attention. That, along with Whale's sharp, Swedish- toned rock operas and cliched stage acrobatics, proved to be an impressive warmup.
Mercury Prize winners Gomez came next, and, albeit most definitely not coincidentally, so did the bongs and the ganja. Unfortunately, a terrible sound mix plagued much of the band's cut-short five-song set. The foggy, old-style blues song "Get Miles" was lost in the dense, muffled sounds of what could have been mistaken for factory- installed car speakers. Drunken lullaby "Tijuana Lady" and closer "Whippin' Picadilly," which received an uptempo kick in the arse on this night, were both highlights of Gomez' talent when not plagued by bad acoustics. But blame the sound guy at the rarely used Hudson Theater, not the unlikely blokes in Gomez.
Speaking of incompetent sound men and bad acoustics, Placebo one-upped Gomez' horrendous mix by launching into the arena- rock- inspired Great Barrier Riff of the brilliant "Scared of Girls" minus any vocal at all. Lead singer Brian Molko, who was sporting a wee dab of blue eyeliner, was pelting the song out mightily, but his vocal scarcely made it past the tip of his tongue. It's too bad, because the song is just what the crowd needed after Gomez' somber, much more low-key jams. At this point, in a perfect world, the sound engineers would be shot on site, replaced instantly by brand spanking new ones. Ironically, the mix problems sounded perfect on "Brick Shithouse," whose Sonic Youth- inspired wall of sound is like a spastic, distortion- laden heap of guitar power. Molko's vocal also made it over the wall this time around, especially on his over- emphasizing of "Fuck!" in the line, "When you fuck you never make a single sound" (changed from "come" in the album version).
Placebo riffled through eight songs from their most recent album, Without You I'm Nothing, of which the mechanical, construction- site clatter of "Allergic (To Thoughts of Mother Earth)" rocked hardest. Molko's psychedelic, pinpointing guitar solo on the tune was the first sign of the band's abilities rising above the venue's sound system difficulties. Somehow, though, on "My Sweet Prince," Molko sounded intensely beautiful throughout the nail- biting ballad, as his strategically- placed cigarette drags heightened the emotional turmoil of the song and the band's performance of it.
Appropriately, British comic Eddie Izzard cheered on the big- as- tsunami riffs of "Every You Every Me," the last new song in the main set, as both he and Molko share the same glam- slam, gender- bending tendencies. The main set ended with "Lady of the Flowers" and "Nancy Boy," both from their self- titled 1996 debut. Upon return, Olsdal, wearing a drab-gray button-up dress over silver metallic pants, switched to guitar for the pounding rhythms of smash- hit- to- be "Pure Morning." The mix was spot-on, but as Molko warned the crowd earlier, "Don't be afraid, we are Placebo," the audience at the Hudson Theater could only fear the perfect sonic moment would end before it had truly began.
-- Kevin Raub