REVIEW: PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING @ ROXX

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I got down to RoXX early doors in order to catch all three bands on last night’s lineup and it was immediately clear that the audience waiting for the gig wasn’t the usual Southampton house/techno crowd … As the doors open and 20-somethings brush shoulders with seasoned music veterans, it is clear that Public Service Broadcasting have a wide ranging appeal. It seems strange walking into RoXX and seeing daylight through the windows, however the concept of an early show definitely appeals at this time of exams and deadlines.

Opening band Elements take to the stage as the audience continues to arrive. On a lineup consisting primarily of duos, this 5-piece seem quite squashed on to RoXX’s small stage which is a shame as it is clear that these guys have got plenty of energy. Their sound alternates between melodic, Foals-esque riffs and huge crashing choruses that showcase a musical variety I hadn’t expected. Particular highlights were their cover of Alex Clare’s “Too Close” which demonstrated the versatility of the singers voice well, and definite fan-favourite “Picking Up The Pieces” featuring impressive harmonies from the backing vocalist. Throughout their set the guys were frequently frustrated by the lack of space as they clearly enjoy playing and wanted to be able to move. By the final song this obviously got too much for the singer, jumping off stage and finishing the set in the front row.

By the time Elements finished the crowd had grown considerably and as Lions Are Smarter Than I Am begin it is clear the claims of over 300 tickets sold are not unfounded. I am curious to see if a group consisting of just drums and guitar can recreate the ‘full’ sound of a traditional 4/5-piece but these guys do not disappoint. Using a loop pedal, some impressive guitar work and powerful drumming they create complex interweaving melodies and rhythms that start quietly but gradually build to an overwhelming wall of sound. Throughout the set I was frequently reminded of This Will Destroy You and This Town Needs Guns, which is by no means a bad thing! Their popularity with the crowd is clear as their supply of free CDs is quickly depleted. These guys are definitely worth checking out.

Lions Are Smarter Than I Am leave the stage. The audience is now at an estimated 350 with anticipation is growing. Regular exposure on 6 Music, particularly recent single “Signal 30“, has definitely brought new listeners to PSB’s unique sound. A lengthy setup procedure involves banjos, guitars and electronic gadgets being carried on to stage as the excitement levels continued to build. When the band are ready, the reason for the small stage was made clear. Black curtains were removed to reveal two stacks of vintage televisions and a large novelty screen as the backdrop, these displayed static and a black and white test cards as ripples of nostalgia went through the crowd.

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Photo credit: Simon Everett

As the intro music swells, the screens flicker and begin to show snippets of footage I’m pretty sure some of which are from 2012 single “Everest”. A cheer goes up as J. Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth take to the stage (along with a third member running the visuals) and launch into their set. Remaining silent throughout the show, the band features no vocals in the traditional sense, instead the screens broadcast a cut-up collage of old public service videos providing a running spoken word commentary throughout each song. This works incredibly well, lending each song a sense of atmosphere that would be impossible to recreate with live vocals. Even between each track the band remain silent, preferring to communicate through pre-recorded samples such as “It is great to be back in…” followed by a clearly overdubbed “Southampton”. This could could easily come across as a cheap gimmick but as a frontman J. Willgoose pulls it off expertly, giving an enthusiastic thumbs ups to the laughing crowd.

As the set progresses the visuals become more and more absorbing. As they begin personal favourite “London Can Take It” an ominous air raid siren resonates from the stage and the large screens display footage from WW2 propaganda blitz footage. However it is the two stacks of televisions that catch my eye, after a burst of static these begin to broadcast aircraft spotlights travelling up through the whole stack, rather than just displaying individual images. This served to create an incredibly atmospheric intro to a great song and demonstrated the attention to detail that makes this live show so unique. Effortlessly switching between multiple guitars, keyboards, samplers and banjo they delivered a set that was full of favourites such as “Spitfire”, “Signal 30” and “ROYGBIV“, leaving the stage to extended applause, cheers and calls for more.

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Photo credit: Simon Everett

Returning to the stage for an encore, it is clear that it is not unusual for a crowd to demand more. A whole “introduce the band” routine is played out through computer samples before footage from “The Conquest of Everest” fades onto the screens, eliciting cheers from the crowd who recognise this as the intro to previous single “Everest”. This proves the perfect end to the set, atmospheric melodies building to a powerful crescendo the final words “Why should a man climb Everest? Because it is there.” ring out through RoXX as the band leave the stage for the final time.

As my first time at a live gig at this venue I can honestly say it was fantastic experience. All three bands delivered solid performances, the Funktion-One system delivered a great sound and PSB’s set has to be seen to be believed. I would highly recommend anyone to go to see them live.

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