While most contemporary pop and rock artists trip clumsily over the concept of lyrical subtlety, Placebo front man Brian Molko is among those rare performers with a firm grasp on the art of deception. At the sold-out Palace on Tuesday, singer-guitarist Molko and the U.K. trio (along with a touring fourth member) played muscular, dramatic, punk-informed rock that was built from equal parts Smashing Pumpkins, The Smiths and Rush before a rowdy crowd of misfits.
Molko’s high-toned vocals worked both with and against his angular guitar work, while the throbbing style of bassist Stef Olsdal and the power-rock approach of drummer Steve Hewitt served well the songs’ relentless sexual tension and passion.
Eighty-minute show covered many of the songs on Placebo’s latest Virgin album, “Black Market Music” (released this month in the U.S., last fall in Europe), a lusty collection that examines the darker side of human desire and frustration.
“The whole world wants my disappearance,” Molko howled during set-opening “Haemoglobin,” a cryptic tale of racism told from the victim’s point of view. “(But) I’ll go fighting nail and teeth.”
Rapper Justin Warfield (from opening band Tape) joined for an effective late-set reading of the vindictive “Spite and Malice,” which contemplates violence as a cure for social ills, followed by a set-closing run of “Black Market Music’s three U.K. singles: “Slave to the Wage,” “Special K” and “Taste in Men.”
Molko showed off his falsetto during B side “Little Mo,” while “Commercial for Levi” was the evening’s most unusual entry, combining a musical vibe not unlike a child’s lullaby (Molko played a small piano) with lyrics of seedy street sex.
The stripped-down and soaring “36 Degrees,” from Placebo’s self-named 1996 debut, was another highlight, while the frenetic infidelity tale “Black Eyed” and excellent 1998 single “Pure Morning” made for a crowd-pleasing midnight encore.