When they take to the stage, Public Service Broadcasting – so often described by critics as ‘geeky’ – are simultaneously the most and least likely band to produce the music that they do. Most likely, because attired akin to history teachers (bow ties and all), the interest and preoccupation with incorporating snippets of vintage documentaries and public information films into their tunes is almost to be expected; least likely, because of how dynamic and expansive they are with these seemingly restrictive resources.
The band (comprised of Wrigglesworth on drums and J. Wilgoose, Esq. on virtually everything else) jokingly informed me in an interview prior that their gig would be “the musical equivalent of palliative care” and didn’t once speak on stage; rather, a wryly amusing and vast array of statements were pre-recorded (“we have always wanted to play… [long pause] Rough Trade Nottingham!”) and called up when required. This modesty and hiding behind technology doesn’t feel motivated by any ideological concerns à la Kraftwerk, but simply an unfounded, almost excessive humility. Particularly as their output is so interesting.
Most obviously influenced by and working within a post-rock approach (Wilgoose has explained their newest album The Race for Space was heavily influenced by Tortoise), but taking detours into funk, electronica and even trip-hop, PSB thunder and soar with remarkable dexterity, in spite of the fact there’s just three people on stage (a third member joins them live, playing bass and, had the venue been larger, horns). Opening the gig, the screeching flurry and drama of ‘Signal 30’ from their debut record also introduced the projections of monochromatic source footage synched to band, in this instance speeding cars, crashes and police officers.
But as soon as it was there the moment was gone and we were plunged back into the stars
At times dangerously close to reducing the show to a film with musical accompaniment rather than music with filmic accompaniment, the technique came into its own on the Race for Space songs. The band injected a passion and excitement into the sort of incredible space footage that has managed to become just dull through familiarity; it carried ‘Gagarin’, which with just guitar and drums had the potential to be funkless funk, and rendered the delicate suspense of Apollo 8’s journey across ‘The Other Side’ of the Moon palpable, despite knowing that event’s successful outcome.
The most interesting moment occurred just before ‘Go’, when the pre-recorded announcement explained the song is dedicated to (and the emphasis was theirs’) “the men and women who put men on the moon”, a tantalising and subtle aside that gigs and perhaps the band in general could benefit more from, where critical distance and knowing context counterpoint the revelling in history-as-music. But as soon as it was there the moment was gone and we were plunged back into the stars.
Excellent on a tightly produced album, in a scaled-down live setting justice and favours are done to no one
What are on record the more rocking tracks lose something in a live setting, perhaps constrained by the voice clips’ rigid timings preventing propulsion and improvisation, but the grandiose, sweeping epics (especially set-closer ‘Everest’) are reinvigorated with a sense of scale far greater than that on album.
I have perhaps come across overly negative towards the performance; it is merely because I had such high expectations of quality, and in such compact quarters PSB had little chance to explore and explode. Excellent on a tightly produced album, in a scaled-down live setting justice and favours are done to no one. Public Service Broadcasting possess a novel conceit, a sharp execution, and they need the largest stage possible to truly showcase their abilities.
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