Bands are defined by their albums, their hits, their image, their social media and their stage presence… And Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) work very, very hard on all of these characteristics. Said by some, including The Guardian’s Alex Petridis, to be more of a concept than a band, PSB are instead the musical gift that keeps on giving. With over one hundred live transmissions in the bag, their sound is a blend of dance / indie / electronic / krautrock, working in perfect harmony with carefully edited videos of public information films, archive footage and propaganda material. A fully packed out London Forum on Wednesday, November 20th, accommodated their new stage design, which included a large radio antenna, plenty of vintage TV sets and two huge video projection screens. Corduroyed Wrigglesworth banged the drums and J. Willgoose, Esq., who sported a U.K. country gentleman’s jacket with natty bow tie, variously played guitars, a banjo, keyboards, and tinkered about with a MacBook. And they just about found space for new band member, Mr B., another bespectacled boffin, with command of big screen and TV visuals.
Before proceedings started, the 2,200 capacity crowd was reminded of the dangers of “Wafty Mobile Phone Camera Video Disorder”, or ‘WMPCVD’ to those in the know. Drawing a large number of laughs and a little applause, the irony of PSB issuing a public service broadcast of their own was at all not lost. All that was missing was an announcement for us all to “KEEP CALM AND ENJOY”.
Opening with “London Can Take It”, taken from the War Room EP, PSB immediately showed how much they have developed since they playing Glastonbury Festival back in June. Complementing the audio-visuals was the addition of their own lighting team. The opening track was a belter. The use of searchlights to explore the darkness in the once-theatre venue, as well as sirens and smoke – and of course, the innovative screening of public broadcast video footage, reimagined 1940 London, and the nightly WWII bombing raids. Their use of lighting gave them much more control – subtle, but noticeable. Second track “The Now Generation”, taken from LP Inform-Educate-Entertain, was there for late 1960s fashionistas, before we were then take for a “real ride” with the blisteringly fast “Signal 30”, accompanied by 1950s U.S. highway safety and film footage. The gig burst into light with the illumination of a large white antenna on the stage, emitting red radio waves throughout “Theme from PSB”; an upbeat and uplifting tune with Willgoose plucking on his banjo. Latest single, “Night Mail”, a commentary on the value of the train network in securing written communications across the U.K. long before email was conceived, was sandwiched between two new tracks inspired by Dutch film of the Elfstendentocht, or ‘Eleven Cities Tour’ – a 200 kilometre ice-skating tour held along a route of frozen canals, rivers and lakes in the north of the country. With early 1960s Lowlands footage, Dutch commentary and a darker, more repetitive rhythm, these songs are evocative of Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europa Express”. The main set drew to a close with another War Room EP track, “If War Should Come”, the hugely popular and dramatic “Spitfire”, and a gently played nautical homage to the BBC, “Lit Up”. To everyone’s surprise and delight, hundreds and hundreds of brightly coloured balloons prematurely spilled out of the high ceiling landing across those dancing, swaying or merely foot-tapping on the ground floor. It was quite spectacular, and greeted with whoops and cheers. And the balloons provided a souvenir or two for those confident enough to get them home intact.
The crowd brought PSB back for two final tracks. “ROYGBIV”, a celebration of the introduction of colour television, espousing the commonly held view, at that time, that technology and invention was going to bring about “a pretty good world.” Even more balloons poured out, perhaps more appropriately this time, as the room had become a vibrant colour palette. And the show was brought to a climatic and triumphant end with “Everest”, a tribute to Edmund Hillary’s team who conquered the world’s highest peak in 1953.
As Public Service Broadcasting left the stage to generous and lasting applause, J. Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth could reflect on another successful show, and maybe that the tribute given to Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, as “two very small men cutting steps in the world,” could well apply to them too.