Occasionally here at TFFT there are bands or artists that we feel like we have to talk about, even if they don’t necessarily fall easily into the usual genres we tend to focus on. Public Service Broadcasting is that band today. The recent release of their stunning new album Bright Magic demonstrates subtle shifts in design and the question was how this album would be received on the stage. The cavernous confines of Manchester’s second-largest venue was about to find out.
The evening is pretty much a sell-out. This is unsurprising considering the album peaked at number two in the UK charts just a few weeks ago. What’s interesting are the reasons why. This is an album about Berlin. It’s presented in three parts, but the narrative journey of previous albums is mostly absent and it has been argued that it lacks those killer, more joyful moments that previous albums have contained. It more than makes up for any of this though with it’s inventiveness, atmosphere and importantly its evocative sense of nostalgia.
The band emerge to album opener ‘Der Sumpf (Sinfonie der Großstadt)’. It’s dark and atmospheric and the Brandenberg pillars at the rear of the stage pulse with light as the opening track swells. The band may have lived in Berlin for several months during the creation of this record, but this track suggests they watched a lot of movies during this time as well; there’s a Vangelis sweep to proceedings and the landscapes of Bladerunner are evoked as we fall down this rabbit hole of influences. The ebullient ‘Im Licht’ follows and the stage erupts with colour. The band’s tweed has been replaced with sharp white suits suggesting a change in identity perhaps, but the industrial magnificence of ‘Der Rhythmus Der Maschinen’ harks back to the grittier moments of Every Valley. Leftfield beats initially drive us on before J. Willgoose’s mechanised power chords fashion something monstrous but utterly brilliant. It’s a glorious start to the evening.
What comes next is a masterclass in setlist structure. There’s something for everyone as the band traverse particular highlights and musical approaches across all their records. Norwegian artist Eera provided an atmospheric opening set, merging Carpeter-esque synthscapes with more fragile, fluid lyricism and she reemerges to provide the evocative vocals on ‘Progress’. She later returns on the more melancholy ‘Gib Mir Das Licht’ and the brilliant ‘Blue Heaven’ and it is this track in particular that signals the shift the band appear to be skillfully adopting; the vocal samples are swapped out for a high tempo, cohesive pop song full of luscious, catchy tones and the crowd are enraptured by this euphoric shift in style.
The obligatory ‘Spitfire’ still has the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck; the wonderful visuals provided by Mr. B certainly contribute to this effect all evening, before we return to the more cinematic moments of Bright Magic and the ‘Lichtspiel’ suite of tracks. This was always going to be the most challenging section for an audience; the more ambient nature causes some in the crowd to drift. If they did they missed a treat. Combining the themes of the album along with nostalgic moments seemingly drawn from Tangerine Dream’s synthscapes on films like Risky Business provides an immersive, enthralling experience. On a side note, it’s worth checking out bandleader J. Willgoose’s 2019 side project Late Night Final to hear the possible inception of these creative developments.
Needless to say, there’s still time for the jubilant ‘Nightmail’, the joyful ‘Gargarin’ and the majesty of ‘Everest’ in the encore demonstrating the broad scope, immense appeal and absorbing creativity of this wonderful band.
Photos & Words from Iain Fox