Brian Molko is so small you could, and probably would, put him in your back pocket to play with later. Next to the elongated toothpick that is bass player/guitarist Stefan Olsdal, he seems delicate, fragile. Until you notice the cigarette held in arch pose, and the guitar played with short, violent thrusts of his arm, and the lyrics of lust and loss.
It's one reason why Placebo belie both the androgynous, fey styling and the almost automatic lumping of them with the nouveau glam bands dotting the landscape this year like so much loose glitter.
The other reason is the muscularity of their songs, which owe more to the New York avant-garde scene of the '80s and the gloom merchants of northern England than they do to Bowie, Bolan and Mott the Hoople.
Live, the three-piece Placebo favour punctuation to attenuation. They beefed up Afraid Of Girls with a twin guitar assault and helped Brick Shithouse shift from progrock to metal and back with brute force. It made for a more visceral response than might be suggested by their recordings which trade on a lean sensuality. But the subtleties aren't always discarded. My Sweet Prince was slow and dense, essaying the claustrophobic sound of Portis-head with guitar, keyboards and looped samples.
It soon became clear that while their vocal melodies favour a pop-oriented '70s sense, the guitar(s) rode a ribbed Sonic Youth groove: low-slung, repetitious, throbbing with swing. When they did bounce up they easily segued to a related sound, the more dance-oriented throb of New Order and briefly, The Cure. It's a combination which allows for both aggression and suppleness, and makes it possible to deflect attention from some of Placebo's songwriting weaknesses.