Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

“This is a public service announcement. We would like to welcome the people of Birmingham to Birmingham Institute. Tonight performing for your delectation and entertainment will be Public Service Broadcasting with support artists the Smoke Fairies. Thank you for coming along and enjoy tonight’s performance. Yes.”

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So we eagerly totter along to the Birmingham Institute – as tonight we are told that tonight’s gig is sold out. And we’re quite excited to see PSB in all their glory, with all their gizmos and effects on display. So we’re disappointed to find out that tonight’s gig in in the Library, a small room holding about 600 people, and a teeny, tiny stage. Not much room for a full PSB display then.

PSB have just released their new album – ‘The Race For Space’  and are on their biggest UK tour to date. Wiggles worth and J. Willgoose Esq launched this new album at two unique shows at The National Space Centre sold out in under 24 hours – and we were disappointed that we couldn’t sneak in to review said events. This tour we are told will be a “uniquely spell-binding live AV ‘Transmissions’” and  we will witness “the band weave samples from archive footage around live drums, guitar, banjo and electronics as they teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future – beaming our past back at us through vintage TV sets and state of the art modern video projection devices.”

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Pub’s debut album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’  reached #21 in the charts and was nominated for ‘Best Independent Album’ at the AIM Awards 2013, as well as being The Guardian’s Album of the Week and one of BBC 6Music’s Top 10 albums of 2013. PSB are indeed rising stars and our expectations are high, and on the eve of the Election in which everyone is being told will take us to a hung parliament once again – their timing is apt.

First up however, to the support artists – the Smoke Fairies – who have attracted a keen following just for them tonight, after recent performance locally at the Hare and Hounds. kin in gold and sparkling gleam, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, aka the Smoke Fairies are mesmerisingly folk / indie – the female duo’s hamornised vocals take to the atmospheric side of hauntingly indie. Think folk, indie, rocking out at times, with a psychedelic vibes and the old bit of Jethro Tull. The Smoke Fairies, supported by one Jack White, through his Third Man Record label, release their latest outing ‘Wild Winter’ in December 2014. They have a growing following – ethereal music to chill out to check them out on their website. Peace, love and understanding man.

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We already feel like sardines in this tiny room, and where I am the aircon is on full blast and I am officially freezing.

After 10 minutes of setting up the PSB stage so everything technically is in place, the set starts with appropriately, a Public Service Announcement. Cheeky graphic on the screens, this announcement is all about mobile phones. And to ANYONE who goes to gigs this will totally relate. Geoffrey uses a mobile phone at a gig. And annoys EVERYONE. And uploads his really bad quality footage to You Tube. He shares it everywhere. His friend disown him. His family disown him. His dog disowns him. And then he dies. And an addendum at the end. Talking loudly is also annoying. The end. A clever and witty take on every gig goers pet hate – which receives a huge cheer from the punters.

And then to the main event. PSB take us through songs from both their albums tonight – even though it is difficult to get the full effect of their set in the overcrowded room. They SOUND great. We start with ‘Sputnik’ a track that rolls and cranks up in sound. And the Sputnik rises from the stage.

“This is Public Service Broadcasting. Yes. That was a newer one. This is an Older One.” The PSB set is laden with these announcements. and it’s all clever. But don’t think the PSB are a novelty act. Their music is a indie, Joy Division mix of electronica with retro take. ‘Theme from PSB’ rocks on down and gets us singing.

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PSB mix retro and the modern. Hair Brylcreemed, they look like they have walked out of some postwar geek bunker, complete in corduroys, dickie bows and specs.  Mr B – the set designer keeps things on track along with  multi-instrumentalist JF Abraham adding to the live set – with additional bass, keyboards, percussion and other bizarre instruments.

“Thank you. It’s great to be back – at … (takes time to find venue) … the Institute. We’ve really been looking forward to coming back to the …. (takes more time to find venue) … The Institute.”

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Older track ‘Night Mail’ literally about trains taking night mail, ‘ROYGBIV’ gives us their pick of primary colours. And for their newly space inspired take we get a little character – a smiley sputnik beamed onto the sputnik care of set designer Mr B. ‘Valentina’ brings us the Smoke Fairies back on stage to take on vocal duties.

When someone complains the bar is shut – we get the PSB response – “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  Encore brings us ‘Gagarin’ about space legend Yuri Gagarin (complete with dancing version) and ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Everest.’

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Tonight’s audience was an older one, surprising for two young bands. And let’s be frank. The tiny venue of the Library is rammed, people bumping into each other as they try to access the bar and fight their way to the facilities. The stage in this room is left of centre, and the format of the room makes viewing interesting. With a tiny mezzanine and stairs leading from both side to the ground floor, punters are packed on the steps taking any vantage point they can.

With the visual effects of PSB lost in the crowd and on a tiny stage, this became an annoyance. However, PSB and indeed the Smoke Fairies wounded great. Next time better venue is a must.

However both bands are well worth a check out. And in the words of PSB: “Thank you for coming along tonight. God speed people of Birmingham.”
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Setlist:

Sputnik
The Now Generation
Signal 30
Theme from PSB
E.V.A.
Night Mail
ROYGBIV
Valentina
If War Should Come
Spitfire
The Other Side
Go!

Encore:
Gagarin
Tomorrow
Everest

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