By Harrison Kristoff
Placebo returned to Chicago on their 2023 North American Tour for the first time in almost a decade. Limited to European tours and pandemic reschedules, Brian Molko & Stefan Olsdal finally brought their alternative glam rock show to Chicago’s latest venue, The Salt Shed. Joining them on this tour, is LA based post punk trio, Poppy Jean Crawford. Tonights show was only the second of the tour and expectations were set high for their long awaited return.
Opening the night was Poppy Jean Crawford. Set up as a live trio, the band is helmed by the woman of its namesake. Poppy Jean Crawford has been building a name for herself for the last 8 years. Currently in support of her upcoming release, The Takeover (due mid June 2023), she’s joined on stage by two musicians filling out the live sound, Marlena Noble on bass and Gregg Foreman programming. Their dark-dreamy pop, drama punk, set waved from melodramatic to raucous bass driven alt-rock. It was impressive to see how well the budding musician took command of the massive new stage. Crawford walked the line of a much more advanced musician than that of her mere 20 years on Earth, commanding the front row with sass that would make Cher proud.
Poppy Jean Crawford played a solid set that was welcomed by the Placebo fans. She got respect with audience responses and general boogying in the isles. One song in particular drew the most attention as she performed a classic ‘Tears For Fears’ song, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. Her’s, a darker, downbeat version, was met with cheers and whistles as the crowd knew this track from its iconic opening synth lines.
PJC is one to watch. From what I heard live this night vs the tracks released just 5 years ago, she’s grown as a musician as fast as a weed in the riverfront outside the venue. Her song writing, musicianship and stage presence today is just as much a jump in time as Marty McFly hitting 88 in that Delorean.
For the main event, we get a performance from one of the UK’s most underrated bands to emerge from the 90’s scene. A band ahead of its time in social just and LGBTQ youth chants, Placebo. Fronted by Brian Molko, he has been championing the rights of alternative lifestyles since day one. Molko, who experienced bullying, homophobia and bouts of exile from family and friends at an early age has been writing about his experiences, trials and tribulations ever since. Something his fans have bonded with that helped them through difficult times. But Placebo’s music reaches even further and touches many levels of life beyond just rocking melodies.
Joined together by original bandmate and co-founder, Stefan Olsdal, the two have been making records since their debut, ‘Placebo’ in 1996. On this tour, the stage is full as they have a large backing band that consists of the bands long time touring guitarist, Bill Lloyd, who has been with them pretty much since the beginning. Multi instrumentalist Nick Gavrilovic filling in on keyboards, guitars and backing vocals since 2008. On the drums, Matt Lunn who started touring with Placebo in 2015. Rounding out the backline is Angela Chan, another multi instrumentalist heading up the keys, violin and percussions.
The show started with the opening track off 2022’s “Never Let Me Go” and ran through almost 20 songs ranging through most the band more current history. This is a feverishly hot track that whips you into a frenzy a perfect start to the their performance. Molko’s voice is strong. His stage presence fierce. This is our first time seeing him in his new look complete with shoulder length jet black hair, snow white teeth and pencil thin mustache. He looks healthy and his voice is on point throughout the two hour gig especially impressive for someone almost a decade older since we last heard him live.
Olsdal, flanking stage left opposite Molko, has an impressive effect pedal array surrounding his platform and mic. His slender build and coiffed hair fit the look of the bands co founding bassist. He commands the stage strutting back and forth like a caged animal on the prowl. He greets the audience front and center and jesters for reactions which are always met.
As stated, the set was mostly later career spanning tracks. Several from the current release. As a matter of fact, the first 5 songs, minus “Scene of the Crime” are from the new album. Which is great because we want to hear how the band has grown and what changes can we expect from them. But, the lack of songs from the early catalog that made them, like “Meds”, “Pure Morning”, “Every You, Every Me” or the one that started it all for them, “Nancy Boy”, simply felt missed and incomplete. I understand bands who’ve had a career as long as Placebo, almost 30 years, gets a little tired of those same songs, but, when you haven’t played a city or country in almost ten years, those songs would be welcomed.
We did get a couple treats for the encore though with their ‘Tears For Fears’ cover of “Shout”, followed by another new album track, “Fix Yourself” and ending with Kate Bush’s song, “Running Up That Hill”. And no, they are not playing this song because it’s popular again from ‘Stranger Things’. It’s something they’ve been covering for many many years before. It’s a darker rendition that gives chills that I’m sure even Kate Bush herself must admire.
This is a must see tour in my opinion. Poppy Jean Crawford is a fresh take on the alternative dark wave scene. A renewed youthful attraction that will no doubt billed a new fanbase. Having Placebo back after all this time, seriously, they’ve released 2 studio albums and 1 greatest hits since the last time they played through town. We’ve missed a lot in that time. This show makes up for it. Yes, it might lack in traditional alt-radio friendly hits, but we hear and see what they’ve been building since.
For more on Poppy Jean Crawford, click here
For photos from Poppy Jean Crawford’s performance, click here
For more on Placebo, click here
For photos from Placebo’s performance, click here