WOLVERHAMPTON, England -- In this industrial town near Birmingham, a strange trend is emerging. Young males and females bedeck themselves in Korn T-shirts and authentic army-trousers, draw black circles of eyeliner around their eyes and don spiky dog-collars.
In Wolverhampton slang, such a creature is termed a "grebo."
When punk-pop trio Placebo came to play Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Wednesday night, local grebos came out in force, taking time off from frightening children and tormenting vicars. It seemed like everyone in the mosh-pit crowd looked like Brian Molko, the band's frontman, who, frankly, looks like a woman.
As the lights dimmed and the hall took on a reek of sweat, the grebos stamped their army boots and screamed until a pool of spotlight appeared. A bassline started, and bassist Stefan Olsdal leaped into the light. More screaming. Atmospheric smoke wreathed around the drum kit as drummer Steve Hewitt arrived onstage. The crowd screamed more.
Then, finally, the person they all came to see, Brian Molko himself, appeared.
"Oh my god, I'm in the same room as Brian-f---ing-Molko," someone in the crowd shouted ecstatically. Some grebos even smiled as singer/guitarist Molko chain-smoked his way into "Scared of Girls" to open the festivities.
The band's second album, Without You I'm Nothing, was released here early this month, to great grebo appreciation. Accordingly, the crowd sang (well, shouted) along to the new tracks, especially embracing the ironic bitterness of "Pure Morning" (RealAudio excerpt).
However, the recent material paled into insignificance beside oldies such as "Nancy Boy" (RealAudio excerpt), the band's best-ever song, from its eponymous 1996 debut LP. Mosh-pit action reached a perspiration-drenched high as the crowd joined in with its idol on that one, singing about losing its mind and role reversal.
The set seemed to last forever. The band churned out songs that started to sound the same, despite Molko's spectacular, energetic guitar-solos. But the crowd was still hungry for more. Mumbling something about this being their "last song," Placebo ended on a high note with "You Don't Care About Us" and charged offstage.
After a minute or so, the crowd's screaming was rewarded when Placebo returned to placate their followers with a fantastic encore. Their subdued version of "Teenage Angst" became surprisingly sad when Molko sang the words, "Nothing ever, ever goes my way." Then, the band disappeared again.
"Now that was a great performance!" Damien Graff, a 19-year-old fan from Shropshire, said as the cheering subsided.
But it wasn't all over yet. Another lengthier encore, during which Molko strutted offstage and the bassist jumped onto the floor of the hall, followed. It was a tiring night for all concerned, and some fans even looked relieved when the band ducked offstage for the last time.
This didn't stop members of the audience from cheering, throwing feather boas at the stage and clambering all over each other, however.
"They just knocked me sideways -- the band, that is," Graff added when the coast was clear. "But I think they should have ended on 'Teenage Angst' because it was really, like, poignant. That guitar-thrashing at the end was nothing special to end the gig, and it dragged on a bit."
To balance the evening and maybe counter Molko's brand of androgyny, Ultrasound opened the show. They have a female singer, known as "Tiny," who looks like a man. Tiny -- huge, masculine and ugly -- proves that you don't need to be young, pretty, slim or tuneful to front a band.
In a seven-song set, Ultrasound's best offering was "I'll Show You Mine," a forthcoming U.K. single that seems to be the clomping band's only track with a tune. All the other songs were too long and too boring, and the grebos didn't take kindly to such time-wasting.
The crowd was shouting "Off! Off! Off!" long before Tiny flashed her chest and ended the set.
As they left, Jackie Wilson, 22, from Moseley, said, "I thought she was going to burst! She's, well, fat!" Wilson didn't have much to say about the music, though. "The choruses are OK ... the rest of the songs just don't go anywhere. But their singer just distracts me from the sound."
After Placebo's show, the grebos dispersed, happy, drunk and scary, their dog-collars glinting menacingly in the lamplight.
Most of them went home in their parents' cars.
Appearances can be deceptive.