With Public Service Broadcasting’s evocative revivalist charms coming to Liverpool with hometown heroes All We Are in tow, Getintothis’ Nick Maw witnesses two quite exemplary performances.
The internet’s ability to let us listen to any piece of music ever written is at once both a blessing and a curse. Because bands no longer have to necessarily go through the outdated industry rigamarole to get their music heard, we are left with exposure to an overwhelming amount of songs from groups who are often depressingly unoriginal.
So when a band comes along and does something as differently as Public Service Broadcasting, it’s indescribably refreshing.
Public Service Broadcasting’s declaration that “singing is never going to work” inspired them to use a variety of audiovisual samples from 20th century newsreels, public information films, radio and even poetry in the form of WH Auden‘s The Night Mail, woven into a backing of self-consciously glorious electronica. By combining this material with an impressive array of electronic and analogue instruments, from banjo to flugelhorn, Public Service Broadcasting create a live experience that really is a cut above the average gig.
Last year’s GIT Award winners All We Are have been supporting Public Service Broadcasting across their latest live shows, and returned ‘home’ to Liverpool to play here. They spoke little to the crowd but were keen to express their happiness to be here – unsurprising considering the amount of love the trio, who are one of Merseyside music’s most deserved success stories of recent years, have long been garnering from all quarters of the city.
Although still riding on the reputation built by their self-titled debut album, one year on it’s clear that All We Are are keen to develop their sound, lovely as it is, into something moodier and more complex than their upbeat beginnings. Although clearly no single factor can be attributed to this progression in sound, the much more contemplative, gloomy soundscape is very reminiscent of Warpaint, whom they toured with in 2014.
The guitars keep their funky melodies, but everything is slower and seems far more carefully constructed and thought over. Put simply, they are maturing. Their set is brief, but gives a tantalising look into what they are working on, and shows how underneath their beautifully crafted early sound, they have been harbouring something a lot deeper.
To someone arriving to a Public Service Broadcasting show with little prior knowledge of the group, it could perhaps be alienating to discover that as well as having no vocals, neither member of the band has ever even spoken to the audience.
In the same way that their music is constructed, Public Service Broadcasting use a variety of war-era public information style samples to communicate with their audience. Whether you consider playing a recording saying “thank you very much” after every song loveable or gimmicky is debatable, but their doltish tongue-in-cheek charm seems to win the crowd over.
Although their audio samples are PSB‘s USP, it wouldn’t have got them anywhere were it not for their actual music. ‘Wrigglesworth’, one of the duo, effectively combines real and digital drums to give a sound that mirrors the theme of the band – historically inclined ‘vocals’ over a modern electronic soundtrack. J. Willgoose Esq. demonstrates a similarly effective pairing of synth, guitar and even banjo. This unique selection of instruments combined with the spectacular on-stage light show and stack of antique TVs displaying archive footage creates a truly impressive all round experience.
It’s difficult to bring myself to criticise Public Service Broadcasting, and I implore you to go and see them live – you won’t be disappointed – but, after an hour, their novelty begins to wear off. Their sound is undeniably special, and their approach refreshingly unique, but each song varies little from the last.
There are brief, fantastically atmospheric moments where we are given chance to reflect, such as when everything suddenly falls away to leave simple acoustic guitar playing over a hauntingly Orwellian propagandistic video, but these are rare, and everything suddenly comes crashing back in.
That said, the performances by both All We Are and Public Service Broadcasting are exemplary, and together the two bands, although vastly different in sound and style, provide a fantastic night of music.
Photos by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth.