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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
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Gig Review

Public Service Broadcasting
Concorde 2, Brighton

Article written by Alex S - Dec 13, 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Concorde, but it was great to be back. Situated beneath the cliffs on Brighton’s seafront, and boasting a lift from the top of the cliffs that tips out in the middle of the venue, this is an iconic building in every sense. Proudly displaying its 2011 ‘best live venue’ award it’s a venue at ease with itself and its place in Brighton’s history. This Victorian building housed tea rooms in the 1800’s and has been a notorious biker’s cafe and amusement arcade before becoming a music venue in 2000. There was a time when you held your breath coming here, unsure what distorted fug might emerge from the lead guitar, but not anymore. Shrouded beneath the gothic ironworks the state of the art L-Acoustics sound system and lighting rigs makes this a cracking place to see a band.

And Public Service Broadcasting made full use of the riches on offer. For those unsure of what’s unique about PSB, they take samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material and set them to, at various turns, pulsating or ambient dance. It’s the History Channel meets banjo. And it’s an idea that lends itself well to live performance. A dozen or so precariously balanced old fashioned TV sets on either side of the stage were placed on top of one another for our viewing pleasure, whilst the band performed against a backdrop of two monstrous screens showing pathe newsreel films from a bygone age. But pride of place was a quite magnificent radio mask, a cross between the Eiffel Tower and a thin but well-lit Christmas tree that shot out murderous red beams and burst into life at all the right moments.

The set opened with the brooding ‘If War Should Come’, a song that demonstrates PSB at their very best. With white searchlights scanning the crowd, the songs sense of foreboding captures brilliantly the bands aim to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’. Billy Bragg wrote in his semi-autobiographical book The Progressive Patriot that it’s high time the left reclaimed the Second World War as Britain’s finest hour. Watching the archive footage to this song and others (Dig for Victory, Spitfire) it’s easy to see why. The live performance of Night Mail was equally compelling, the rhythmic beat mirroring precisely that of the train moving along the tracks as it collects the mail. And in the month that the Royal Mail was privatised, the archive footage was a poignant reminder of a once proud and pivotal public service.

The band communicates with the audience through a series of pre-recorded messages. For example, when J. Willgoose Esq., looking every bit like Matt Smith from Doctor Who, tried to introduce some much needed air to his sweat stained jacket the computer announced ‘Corduroy is not a very breathable fabric’. These vignettes were largely cute and funny, although friends who have seen the band more frequently than me occasionally rolled their eyes at the self-mocking tone of these pronouncements. “We are pleased to be here in...[pause while the computer finds the right town]...Brighton.” Personally I was bewitched, but I can imagine it might grate after awhile.

Their distracters have also labeled the band as one-trick ponies, and the announcement that introduced two new songs was a mischievous nod to such criticisms. “We have recorded two new songs, in Dutch, about ice skating. It felt like the next logical step”. But if truth be told, devoid of the power and meaning of more significant subject matter, they came across a little dull by comparison.

As the set progressed I was deeply impressed by the quality of their performance. Make no mistake, for all the twiddling of knobs and dials PSB are very much a ‘live’ band, on more than one occasion shutting down the visuals and seriously wigging out. For the final song, about the conquering of Everest in 1953, they were joined on stage by two fabulous trumpeters and a trombonist. Brilliant though it was you had to feel sorry for the three poor women, if they’ve been dragged around the country just for that five minute finale.

Through the visuals and a storming live performance PSB weave together seemingly unrelated events and fleeting observations into an extremely satisfying whole. And it worked tonight on all levels; the humour, the music, the archive footage. It helps too that the pseudonymous musical duo of J. Willgoose Esq. and Wigglesworth are adorable, although joined tonight by a third person on visuals (whose name escaped me but is likely to be equally preposterous). All in all, a terrific evening from a fine band, doing something quite unusual in these generic indie times.


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