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CONCERT PREVIEW

Stabbing Westward and Placebo

A break from happy vibes

By Daniel J. Katz
STAFF REPORTER

Monday, March 22

Avalon

15 Lansdowne St., Boston

(617) 262-2424

After weeks and weeks of unavoidable pop singles by Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync, sometimes you just need to take a breather from all the happy vibes and listen to something dark. If you’re in the same boat, make plans for Monday, Mar. 22 at the Avalon for an evening of brooding with industrial heavyweights Stabbing Westward, British breakout trio Placebo, and up-and-coming rockers Flick.

Stabbing Westward’s third album, Darkest Days (Columbia), hit stores early last year. It has scored a number of mainstream radio hits, including “Save Yourself”, the heavily emotional “Sometimes It Hurts”, and the current single, a stalker’s plea for freedom called “Haunting Me”.

In general, Darkest Days sounds a lot less raw than the band’s earlier albums, achieving a cleaner, more modern sound, and incorporating more sophisticated synthesized effects, most notably the chaotic screeching that opens the intense fourth track, “Drugstore”. In the same vein, the bottom-heavy power chords that originally defined the band’s sound have been replaced by melting distortion and overdriven harmonics (which are used extremely well in a wicked riff in “Torn Apart”), taking the band a step away from Metallica and a step closer to Nine Inch Nails.

The album opens and closes with a bang, beginning with the title track, in which soft menacing bells erupt into tortured screaming. The last track, “Waking Up Beside You”, is a final cry of anguish which is perhaps the most polished song on the album, and which (I can proclaim from experience) absolutely must be heard in concert.

Placebo has achieved huge success in England, powered by singles like “Nancy Boy” and an androgynous lead singer who resurrects memories of the golden age of glam rock. Their newest album, Without You I’m Nothing (Virgin), opens with their current single, an excellent tune called “Pure Morning” which is driven by the world’s simplest guitar riff -- a pulsing repeated tone, backed by harmonics and a droning, addictive chorus.

The rest of the album ranges from fast-paced grungy rock songs like “Scared of Girls” and “You Don’t Care About Us” to soft introspective tracks like “The Crawl” and “My Sweet Prince”. Other highlights include the steady rhythms of “Every You, Every Me”, and a hidden track at the end which turns an obscene message that was left on the lead singer’s answering machine into a mind-blowing guitar showcase. Despite only having three members, Placebo utilizes nonstandard tunings and creative bass effects to craft a rich and varied sound which is sure to transfer well to a live show.

Newcomer band Flick opens for the co-headliners. While their major-label debut, The Perfect Kellulight (Columbia) shows some promise through tracks like “Freezer Burnt” and “There You Go” and attempts to create an interesting mood, mixing a space-age atmosphere with heavy guitars, most of the album is disjointed and somewhat forgettable. For those of you taking notes, “Radio Song” is at least the eightieth song to claim that “this is my song for the radio,” or something like it. It never works. If you’re in search of the meandering, vaguely futuristic album that Kellulight attempts to be, track down a copy of Failure’s terrific Fantastic Planet.

Flick may blossom into something greater live -- you never know. Placebo’s alternately frantic and restrained songwriting should be very entertaining on stage. And as a three-time Stabbing Westward concert alumnus, I can guarantee that their shows are always an experience. Darkest Days and Without You I’m Nothing were two of my favorite albums of 1998, and this tour should start 1999 off with a bang for both bands.