It was easy to dismiss Public Service Broadcasting as an art-school novelty when they first appeared in 2010. Setting spoken word samples from the British Film Institute and British Archives to a blend of krautrock and electro-prog, it was hard to see where the London trio could go from debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain.
Yet with 2015’s The Race For Space and this year’s Every Valley they have managed to slowly evolve their sound, first taking in the space race and then the history of the mining industry in Wales.
The same basic elements remain in place but they’ve added more human elements with live vocals from, among others, the Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell (the latter heard tonight in recorded form on the post-rock ‘Progress’).
Their live shows have evolved in a similarly cautious but incremental direction, their early multi-media ambitions now supported by a bigger bank balance.
The bank of portable televisions that once graced their sets has been replaced by an array of flat screens that dangle from the ceiling. The sampled banter is still present but J. Willgoose, Esq now also addresses the audience directly (“the budget can stretch to a microphone these days…”). And the props are on a larger scale, with mine head wheels bookending the stage and a row of miners’ lamps descending from the roof space.
These props and live video-feeds have echoes of pop-art pioneers, with the colour washes on the screens indebted to Warhol at one point. The music is equally referential, with shades of Low-era Bowie on ‘The Now Generation’ and Kraftwerk on ‘The Other Side’.
The overall concept nonetheless balances this nostalgia with contemporary electronics and a well judged set that switches between bold electro-pop (‘Go!), Pink Floyd-esque prog (‘People Will Always Needs Coal’), and plaintive soft-focus synths (‘If War Should Come’). With ‘All Out’ (introduced as being for Orgreave) they even inject a hint of anger, Willgoose’s guitar taking on an almost Muse level of rock.
The addition of a brass trio, whose presence draws a direct line to the history of colliery bands, adds an element of soul to a number of tracks. This helps to humanise the art concept, especially when two people in spacesuits join the extended band to dance around the stage during the encore of ‘Gagarin’.
It’s moments like this that the band stop being a high art idea and become a joyful, exciting live act that believes in entertainment as much as they do in progress.