Public Service Broadcasting – Picture House, Edinburgh, Wed 6 Nov 2013
The vintage radio sample-based live show is effective, but only when it sticks to the formula
Public Service Broadcasting have done an excellent job of transferring their bowties-and-BBC English aesthetic to the live arena. Their stage set features retro televisions, back-projection screens, inventive lighting and a neon radio antenna, and perennially-corduroyed frontman J Willgoose, Esq utilises a selection of clipped, semi-personalised vocal samples for his stage banter (the most successful of which is the stilted, ‘It’s great to be back in... Edinburgh. We’ve really been looking forward to coming back to... Edinburgh’). The pair’s default krautrock musical setting is a very good fit – the genre’s rigid adherence to form and repetition makes a good partner to officious Pathe voiceovers and looped samples.
It’s when PSB diverge from this template that the show becomes less effective. Willgoose evidently has some affection for the banjo, but the instrument has too many country connotations to fit with the theme, and the foregrounded finger-picking in ‘Theme from PSB’ and ‘ROYGBIV’ is jarring. Other songs take on too strong an indie rock hue, with ‘New Dimensions in Sound’ suffering particularly for its lack of a considered and orderly approach; plus there’s something intrinsically wrong about seeing a man in corduroy trying to rock out.
Bands and artists should be encouraged to push boundaries and explore new sounds, but PSB’s diversions tonight spoke rather of a band who were falling back on established safety nets (Willgoose’s familiarity with the banjo; the audience’s familiarity with indie rock), not moving forward. Only when the duo fully explored and exploited the limitations of their chosen territory did they produce music that was satisfyingly innovative.