Public Service Broadcasting at RoXX (20/05/2013)

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This gig was different. Very different. After all, how many of us can say we’ve been to a gig where the set consisted of piles of vintage televisions showing old propaganda footage from World War Two? Where the band only interacted with its audience through a series of automated, Queen’s-English style announcements? And where samples from old public service broadcasts were played to the accompaniment of a bow-tie wearing man on a banjo? It just shouldn’t work. But somehow, it does.

This was a night of the unexpected. The first surprise was how busy RoXX was when I arrived, a sizeable crowd already forming ready for the first support act: local band Elements fronted by singer Marcus Smith. Not only did they manage to rock out the stage, they also did an impressive job avoiding the piles of televisions already set up for Public Service Broadcasting. New to the live circuit, Elements had a pretty different sound from the trippy ambience of PSB, but their energy meant the set was still a good start to the night.

Next support act, local duo Lions Are Smarter Than I Am, were another surprise: their music was entirely acoustic. Despite the lack of lyrics they still managed to really engage the crowd with chilled out, The XX style guitar riffs one minute and heavy rock the next; this is a band with a unique sound and the ability to span different genres of music. By the end of their set they’d hyped up a great atmosphere in the crowd as everyone waited for Public Service Broadcasting to take the stage.

Their arrival was announced by twelve vintage television sets and a projector screen flickering to life. All three band members awkwardly trooped on in ties and oversized glasses. Wrigglesworth started up the drums, Willgoose got the banjo going, and the mysterious ‘Mr B’ watched over the visuals, controlled the automated voice, and occasionally filmed his companions on what appeared to be some kind of 1940’s camcorder. The night did not get any saner.

This was not a gig as such, more an impressive display of something very new: old footage and broadcast samples set to the live sound of drums, guitar, banjo and electronics. It made for a very surreal experience: standing in a crowded RoXX surrounded by the sounds of an air raid whilst Willgoose went crazy on the synthesisers. Not really your average gig.

But as the band slowly worked their way through material from their recently released debut album Inform- Educate –Entertain, I couldn’t help feeling like there was something missing. The visuals were so mesmerising, the voice clips so hypnotic, that the night at times seemed to lack energy. Although judging by the crowd’s final hectic encore, energy is not the reason for this band’s success; it’s their ability to transport their audience back to a different time that has apparently won them a devoted fan base.

Public Service Broadcasting has taken the old and turned it into something very new. It works. And as the night came to an end, the crowd was treated to another automated message: ‘all this has been just the beginning’. Wrigglesworth and his companions clearly have some big plans for the future, even if their act relies on the past.

Check out their sound at: http://publicservicebroadcasting.net/

Download Lions Are Smarter Than I Am’s music for free at: http://lionsaresmarterthaniam.bandcamp.com/

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