- 01 Feb 19
Playing alternative-rock and electronic music against a backdrop of archival footage, Public Service Broadcasting are one of the most unique, and forward-thinking, bands in the world at the minute.
The night starts off with ‘The Unsinkable Ship’, from last year’s White Star Liner EP – which traces the shipbuilding history of Belfast, the Titanic's maiden voyage and the ship's fatal sinking. It’s a big number to start off the night, with clanging guitar riffs reaching to those seated up in the nosebleeds of the Olympia Theatre (where Hot Press is), letting us know that they've arrived. This is followed by the title song from that EP, which is a genuinely affecting ode to the Titanic's hopeful, but ultimately doomed, first voyage. The eerie footage of the ship leaving the dock, of Captain Edward John Smith at the helm, of smiling crowds of well-wishers, plays out as the song reaches its climax and JF Abraham gives us a few proud blows of the flugelhorn.
The White Star Liner EP songs end there, on a hopeful note and without the smouldering denouement of ‘C-F-D’ and the chill of ‘The Deep’. The band move back to some of their earlier tracks to kick it up a gear. ‘Theme From PSB’, with its shifts from punchy synth to rhythmic banjo and back, is easily the most enjoyable song they have in their repertoire. It’s followed by ‘Night Mail’, where a mountain of reverb gives the sound a most atmospheric character, different to the album version of that song but no less thrilling. Then comes ‘Korolev’, from the EP of the same name, where the seriously enthusiastic and fun-loving brass section get their first opportunity to take centre stage. The finale of this phase of the show comes after this, with a rendition of the 7-minute-long ‘Sputnik’ which is so cinematic and climactic it’s like you’re witnessing history before your eyes.
From this phase, the band move on to songs from their 2017 album Every Valley. Easily their most personable album to date, as well as their most expertly structured, this phase starts off with ‘People Will Always Need Coal’. With archival voices speaking about “a secure future in coal” in the background, this song brims with bitter irony, of promises not kept and working people betrayed (the relevance of these particular songs with the current, post-Brexit juncture in British politics is readily apparent). Next comes ‘Progress’, then the upbeat and fiercely hopeful feminist anthem ‘They Gave Me A Lamp’, which has a spine-tingling brass finale, all the more poignant given the footage playing in the background, documenting Welsh women’s integral part in the coal-mining communities.
After this, a performance of early track ‘London Can Take It’, before Willgoose pauses to explain that next song ‘Spitfire’ is anti-fascist but not pro-nationalist, going on to sound sincerely apologetic as he references the Brexit shitshow and how it’s playing out both in their home country and in Ireland. The same sentiment goes for ‘All Out’, which focuses on the Welsh Miner’s Strike and the legacy of Thatcher’s deindustrialisation. It ends ominously with a woman with a strong Valley accent saying: “I was brought up to respect police; I don’t respect them now.”
This leads us into the finale, which returns to songs from The Race For Space. ‘The Other Side’ dramatizes Apollo 8’s journey around the moon, and there’s a loud applause in the Olympia when the recording of the ship regaining radio control plays out. After this, the pacy synth-rock song ‘Go!’ sees PSB end their main set with a flourish.
After the encore, the band return with ‘Signal 30’, the closest PSB get to straight up rock. Then ‘Gargarin’, a funky number which sees the brass section and two space suit-wearing dancers take to the stage – it’s gimmicky, but sure it’s fun. Then the night is rounded off properly with the towering first album song ‘Everest' - a real, majestic, humane finish.