Public Service Broadcasting
O2 Academy, Brixton – 29th November 2015
Public Service Broadcasting have promised that tonight’s set will be special. They do not disappoint. In a set bedecked with pyrotechnics, dancing astronauts and a replica of the first Sputnik space craft, the be-tweeded heroes of alt rock still take centre stage, resplendent in their customary cardigans and bowties. Add in to the mix a full choir, string section and choreographed brass ensemble and you have the makings of a truly triumphant homecoming gig.
In a 17 song set that spans almost the entirety of material from their two studio LPs, it’s fair to say that PSB pack a lot in. With album sales no doubt buoyed by their recent inclusion in the Science Museum to coincide with the recent Cosmonauts exhibition, they bring their A game to this iconic South London venue. Twin towers of vintage television sets are piled either side of the stage, blaring out the grainy black and white video accompaniments to their diverse range of propaganda-themed tunes. Later they raise the bar higher still as two more enormous visual displays descend from the heavens to sit behind the two already present, after frontman J. Willgoose’s pithy announcement that “we needed some bigger screens”.
Alongside the often heavy hitting subject material that comprises their musical inspiration there is a keen sense of humour woven into the between-song banter, courtesy of the signature ‘public service announcement’ voice that echoes through the band’s preprogrammed laptop. That is until the encore, which features “a very special guest” in the form of a finally realised human embodiment of the formerly disembodied voice, fully decked out in top hat and tails. Willgoose even returns to the stage with a dazzling pair of silver trousers, although reassures the crowd that “the jacket is still corduroy”.
The set itself ebbs and flows effortlessly between high tempo rockers and their more reflective, mellow anthems. They kick off with the one-two opening combo from The Race For Space, featuring rich choir vocal harmonies over John F. Kennedy’s iconic speech and the legendary bleeping of the Sputnik space craft, which ascends centre stage as the band quickly find their groove. From there they begin to wind up through the gears; punk-rock celebration of road safety Signal 30 and loving tribute to the industrialisation of the mail service Night Mail see the band swiftly crank up the decibels.
There is a pause for breath when dream pop duo Smoke Fairies appear for a delicate rendition of Valentina, clad in matching silver dresses they shimmer with an otherworldly glow as their gentle vocal harmonies drift over an atmospheric soundscape. The band then close out with a full string section on fan favourites Korolev, E.V.A. and If War Should Come as the pace once again ratchets up, although they are far from done.
If the main set is incendiary then the encore is little short of nuclear, as The Other Side sees the audience chanting the words of Huston Mission Control, following a brief rehearsal before the song launches, while Go! has the assembled masses delightedly shouting back the punchy one word title at every possible opportunity. All the while pyrotechnics whirl in the background; sparks and fireworks sending this explosive set into the stratosphere.
There is little doubt as to what the final song will be. Even before the opening drum roll and brass explosion of Gagarin there are excitable chants from the audience baying for the funky, uptempo tribute to the world’s first cosmonaut. Taking notes from Bruno Mars’s touring band, the smartly clad brass ensemble bump and grind their way through this high octane rendition, gyrating and high fiving wth infectious abandon. The two dancing astronauts from the band’s original promotional video also make an appearance, taking up positions at either end of the stage while they display some smooth disco moves made all the more impressive by the heavy replica space suits.
For a change, though, this does not mark the end of the night. Staying on for one final curtain call that also sees the string section and choir return to the stage, PSB round things off with Everest – a fitting counterpoint to opening salvo The Race for Space which features JFK referencing George Mallory’s fateful expedition up the mountain. In a final theatrical celebration mock snow rains down from on high, leaving the crowd showered in white paper. When the band finally depart, for the third and final time, the appreciation is rapturous. With shows of this quality it seems certain that PSB’s witty, informative brand of dazzling alt rock will hit new heights in 2016.
Words: Henry Wickham