Prog | December 2018

Public Service Broadcasting

Venue | Royal Albert Hall, London
Date | 01/11/2018

If Public Service Broadcasting have sometimes suggested an air of fusty academia, all history lessons and libraries, tonight’s the night they shake that off. Reaching a career pinnacle by selling out the Royal Albert Hall, they fill it with colour, physicality and even a dash of showbiz. By the time the brass section in gold sequinned jackets are gyrating downstage with two extras in astronaut suits, exhorting the audience to dance, there’s no denying it: PSB are fun. Intelligent, innovative and atmospheric, but also emotive and exciting. They’re the little band that got big fast, but they’re using the G-force to their advantage.

With tracks that marry krautrock-electronica instrumentals to astutely judged samples capturing the heroism and drame of mountain-climbing, space travel and the fall of the South Wales mining industry, they’re not, on paper, a party band. Yet people have caught on to the adrenaline rush inherent in their sonic stories. ‘A climber climbs with his guts, his brain, his soul and his feet’, declares Everest. The band have realised the brain can’t make the summit alone, so they’ve kept rising. Tonight’s show simmers, then soars.

Diffident fulcrum J Wilgoose Esq plays guitars like Michael Rother and keyboards like OMD, while the rhythm section of drummer Wrigglesworth and bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) JF Abraham bring flesh and blood to the high concepts. Abraham is key to the visual element, his highly mobile enthusiasm a bridge to the crowd. Sure, the films (with relevant topics, from space modules to miners’ wives) and lighting are impressive, but to see musicians playing and hitting stuff gives the mood a heat you wouldn’t get with anonymous tweakers standing behind laptops. There’s a string section and intermittent cameos, ensuring the Chemical Brothers-style electronic backdrops support rather than swallow the humanity. Given that PSB’s chosen themes regard the best aspects of humanity – courage, nobility, resilience – that’s shrewd.

White Star Liner, from the invigorating new EP concerning the Titanic, gets a London debut. Otherwise, the set swoops between favourites, from Every Valley to Sputnik to Spitfire. Tracyanne Campbell sings Progress, Haiku Salut perform They Gave Me A Lamp and Lisa Jên joins a bashful Wilgoose for the incongruous ballad duet You + Me.

Everyone’s up and air-punching for the climax of The Other Side and Go. Clearly a rush for the incredulous South London band, it’s been an inspiring, motivating night, co-opting the daring of the space race protagonists and the steadfast pathos of the neglected Welsh communities. Then, as the ensemble departs, the Beaufort Male Choir bestride the stage to sing Take Me Home, and we learn how many coals it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Not a dry eye in the house. We’ve been taken to the other side.

Chris Roberts