If ever a walk-on track could perfectly encapsulate what is to come, it is Public Service Broadcasting’s choice of the David Bowie classic ‘Sound And Vision’. On part of what is ostensibly an album tour for last year’s Every Valley, a musical history of the Welsh mining and coal industry, the show could almost be seen as a metaphor for the potential and ingenuity that mankind truly possesses when it puts its mind to it. Tonight, the London band took an awestruck audience on an evocative journey from the darkest mines to the brightest stars and back.
Starting in near total darkness with the only light cast from a handful of pit lanterns descended from the roof, it is a suitably moody beginning. With their heads down behind their respective kits, J. Willgoose, Esq., Wrigglesworth and new member JF Abraham, make a low-key intro as the haunting tones of the title track to Every Valley wash over the room. Plunging even further into the depths of ‘The Pit’, the lights slowly reveal two giant mining rigs that frame the stage. The smaller, darker setting suits the band more than the harsh glare of a summer festival afternoon. It allows the mood to be controlled and the audience to be fully immersed. With large video screens portraying scenes relevant to each piece and piercing strobe lights slowly engaging and bringing light to the room, it is clear that the visuals are just as important to the band as the judicious use of samples are.
Public Service Broadcasting have never been big on talking, almost as if they don’t want to dispel the mood, though there are signs tonight that they are starting to let their guard down a bit more. ‘Theme From PSB’ is the first point tonight where the audience can fully let go, with many hands thrust into the air. As impressive as the show is, there is occasionally a slight sense of a crowd not quite knowing what to do – whether to dance, nod their head appreciatively or just watch the screens and let it all soak in. It feels at times tonight like their music and ambition are crying out for an even bigger stage production, and it could only be imagined what 3D visuals and quadrophonic sound could do for this band and this current set list. Regardless, ‘Korolev’ is stunning, with a live horn section at the front of stage adding to a pounding electronic drum beat – ‘Valentina’ meanwhile is gorgeous, signalling a dreamy ‘stare out of a train window’ middle section.
As the majority of Every Valley’s guest stars are absent, only Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut are able to add their own particular flavour to a beautiful rendition of ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’. The uplifting nature of this brings the crowd out of its sleepy reverie, while the explosion of colour that is ‘Roygbiv’ completely shifts the atmosphere. From here, both the mood and the subjects lift higher and higher. As the crowd reacts wildly to its crescendo, ‘Spitfire’ sees them cut loose in a way that they have previously held back from. It surges and pulses until the room is forced to fully leave this world behind with the beautiful ‘The Other Side’ and the fist-pumping ‘Go!’. By now, the crowd have been worked into a frenzy by a powerful run of songs culminating in the heavy ending of ‘Signal 30’.
With an encore that manages to fit in the pent up rage and frustration of ‘All Out’, as well as dancing astronauts during the funk-filled ‘Gagarin’, it wraps up a superb show from one of this country’s most eccentric and always-interesting bands. At times, the sheer scale of what is unfolding in front of us is almost overwhelming to behold in its entirety. It was a show that began in the black expanse of coal mines, and one that ended in the black expanse of the distant sky. Having conquered both the depths and the heights, where Public Service Broadcasting decide to go next is already an exciting prospect.