Public Service Broadcasting hit Manchester in support of their latest album, Bright Magic. The At The Barrier team were there to witness this band growing into bigger venues with a bigger show.
Public Service Broadcasting have been “teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future” for more than a decade now. Back with their fourth Berlin-inspired album, Bright Magic is their most ambitious undertaking to date. “Expect a new ‘abstract expressionist’ inspired stage presentation,” we’re told.
It’s also a team night out for At The Barrier, Mike in front taking some photos and having a first time experience with PSB; Dom & Howard at the back having seen the band several times before. Here’s the view from our three pronged attack.
As is the custom, getting in early enough to catch a subtle guitar/keyboard/solo support slot from EERA – her appearance on the People, Let’s Dance single, indicating the distinct possibility that she would make an appearance in the headliners’ set as indeed she does, significantly so. That particular track is saved for the encore where it makes for a mini PSB sampler with Gagarin, Everest and Night Mail forming a memorable amuse bouche from three albums.
First up though after some music over the PA that includes Bowie’s V2 Schneider and the intro music of Sound & Vision, the band appear. They’re decked out in gleaming white suits that even extends to the occasional appearance of three brass players who bound on and off in abandon. Lined up in a very Kraftwerk-ian fashion, they’re a compact unit although take some time to break free from the restraint of the instruments to encourage some audience participation. They might packs some intelligent themes and intellectual clout, buy stuffy and stilted this isn’t. The production is far from minimal though although again maybe owing some debt to Bowie’s 1978 presentation.
With the subtler strands of their new music heralding their entrance, with Der Rhythmus Der Maschinen, things get a bit more serious and hefty. New music indeed that crosses the ideals of New Order with those other PSBs, the Pet Shop Boys, Bowie art rock and Vangelis. Having snared us, we’re off into the back catalogue with Progress and People Will Always Need Coal from Every Valley, with the mining visuals being particularly effective.
The Bright Magic ambience bookend the set with the three part Lichtspiel winding things up, but a well-paced set peaked devastatingly with the the three run passage from the radio friendly Blue Heaven into Spitfire (“here’s a song about a plane“) and All Out. The middle section in particular with some dramatic lighting is the sort of pounding instrumental tour de force might provide evidence for those would argue that Public Service Broadcasting aren’t just pretty faces with some musical integrity but a damn fine instrumental unit who know how to pump it out.
In the few months since we’ve seen a return to live music and large gatherings, we’ve witnessed some stunning performances. Public Service Broadcasting cleared the new heights with ease.
Although obviously keen to promote the new album with a healthy smattering of exciting pulsating new tracks from it, they clearly know what their audience wants too. Apart from the Titanic themed EP every album was visited with the everlasting favourites from Race For Space ( Gagarin and Go ) as well as a tune about a plane, a nostalgic visit to the Welsh valleys and a breathtaking climb up Everest. Two hours flew past faster than a Spitfire attack. Clad all in white in contrast to all in black favoured by most rock groups these guys shed what could easily be recognised as a geeky persona and rocked all night. Just when I thought the pixellated boppers where to replace the Gagarin brass section dance routine out came our well loved suited rompers !
A splendid feature of PSB is that they don’t over egg the pudding, some numbers are remarkably brief, the rest never drag on to excess: they make their point and finish and leave you gagging for the next one. With three full length albums, a live album and two shorter EPs they have plenty of material to fill the night. Hopefully their popularity is growing as they fill larger venues than they have visited before yet even if their popularity grows I wonder if the arena venues will suit their style of performance. Considering their unique brand of music they enjoy a close connection with their audience which along with their atmospheric performing style would be lost in a huge stadium.
Having seen Public Service Broadcasting elevate themselves through venues in Manchester, it is great to see them in the grand surroundings of the Apollo. Innovation is part of PSB’s outlook and their show does just that. Wonderful visuals, music that flits between an array of genres, and an exuberant set of talented players make for a memorable experience.
The Berlin inspired Bright Magic takes up a large portion of the set. Its nods to Bowie, Depeche Mode, U2, The Bad Seeds and the luminaries of Hansa Tonstudios are evident. Sound & Vision is used as intro music and Blixa Bargeld (ex-Bad Seed) guests on Der Rhyhmus der Maschinen. Bowie’s ghost looms large over the Lichtspeil movement; it takes the place of the more ambient second side of Bright Magic; a little like both Low and Heroes did.
Classics like Go!, Spitfire, Everest, The Other Side and People Will Always Need Coal all show PSB’s unique diversity and continue to add people to the growing cult. Sputnik is given an airing on this night feels like it has an added disco groove in its beat; it is highly danceable.
Dance is key to People, Let’s Dance and Gagarin. The former utilises 8-Bit visualisation to recreate the mesmerising video as the Depeche Mode/Kraftwerk inspired tune pulses through the venue. EERA adds vocals (which she has done throughout the evening), and the segue into the absolutely spellbinding Gagarin is masterful. This double would make a great RSD release for PSB (hint, hint!). Whilst there is a seriousness to PSB’s music and themes, the playfulness the band exudes is joyous. The brilliantly named ‘Brassy Gents’ bound around the stage to Gagarin as their brass lines add to the funk; then an appearance from two dancing astronauts adds to the crowds fervour.
The only way is up for PSB and like any great band, it is exciting to think where the journey goes next both sonically and visually.
Check out the video for People, Let’s Dance from Public Service Broadcasting below.