Public Service Broadcasting are a hard duo to describe; one part electro, one part rock, one part old-timey samples, the Brits are a unique act that’s for sure. Having not been massively into their recorded material to-date, I went over to Leicester’s O2 Academy full of skepticism, not sure whether I’d be disappointed or very well entertained. Well, post 10pm last night, I was somewhere between the two, having been surprised in doses by the two ‘Doctor Who’ look-a-likes, who manage to entertain via music, humour and emotion…
More of which later, but let’s start with support act Happyness, who were a strange trio to pin down to just one style of music. They opened with the sombre, ‘Lascascadas’, a mouthful to say the least, and not exactly the greatest first impression in a live arena. Things picked up with the more up-beat ‘It’s On You’, but the tone really wavered between slow and depressing to more progressive and pacier beats. There are certainly some strong foundations here, the group are musically adept and the newer songs they played sounded far more impressive than their initial material, keep an eye out for Happyness!
Now onto the main show, and the stylings of ‘PSB’. Wrigglesworth and J. Willgoose, Esq are the mysterious two from South London, and the initial impact is astounding. Wrigglesworth gets belted into a vast drum kit, centre left of stage, whilst Willgoose is on the right, behind an electronics desk, with banjo and a trio of guitars within easy reach. Of course, a wealth of effects pedals are gathered beneath the desk, and in the background we have a mini-screen which throughout the gig is adorned with black-and-white visuals to compliment the core of the music, samples taken from public broadcasts and propaganda. Chuck in some impressive lighting, strobe and all, and we’re set for a pure hour’s worth of Public Service Broadcasting.
This mini-tour, taking in five UK dates before heading off to mainland Europe, is in support of Record Store Day release, ‘Elfstedentocht Parts 1 &2‘, which is based on a Dutch ice-skating race…you see where we’re going! Well with subjects ranging from go-go dancers to the climbing of Mt Everest to the London Blitz, it becomes a melding pot of samples, excellent live drumming and riffs with the electronic loops and backing beats thrown in. It’s a skilfull thing to watch up close and personal with the two, who communicate (Daft Punk style) via only the electronics at Willgoose’s fingertips, which results in some strangely comedic moments during crowd interaction.
For me, the gig really began with ‘Signal 30′, which is when everything was lined up perfectly, from the terrifyingly pacy drums to the riffs of Willgoose, it was magical to watch, and I began to appreciate just what made PSB special, and has seen them play to a US crowd just recently, and will see them perform at the festival to end all festivals, Glastonbury, this summer. They’re very, very British, as I say, looking like a pair of Doctor Who impersonators in bow-ties, patched up jackets and shirts, it adds to the mystique and the wonder of the two, as they look like they’ve been transported from the black-and-white era so much of their music is based upon, but been trained to play these ‘modern-day’ instruments.
The backing video screen really came into play for me with ‘If War Sh0uld Come’, a devastating song, that when played alongside the accompanying video conjures up a good amount of emotions as it takes you to the place and the seriousness of war. All in a three minute plus song, incredible! The Dutch pair of songs about ice-skating are another great visual delight, too.
If I were to fault one thing, it is the samples. They can grate after an hour’s worth of seemingly samey voices, and whilst it is the niche and the pull of the band, I wished to hear more diversity in the samples played in every song. Or throw in some of the aforementioned robotic voices that a certain pair of French dance kings love to employ!
The best of the gig was yet to come, with my personal faves, ‘Spitfire’, ‘ROYGBIV’ and ‘Everest’, bringing proceedings to a close. Spitfire’s brilliant riff and drum breakdown is hugely listenable, ROYGBIV just makes you want to smile, as Willgoose employs his banjo to great effect and Everest is awe-inspiring, especially when combined with images of the great giant in the background.
So all in all, a great evening’s worth of entertainment; they may not be for everyone’s tastes, but Public Service Broadcasting left a lot of smiling faces amongst their ardent group of fans.