Public Service Broadcasting / Stella Martyr Live at the Exeter Phoenix

public service broadcasting2013-02-28






Imagine your dad, paunchy and grey haired, coming onstage in cheap plastic trainers and a bleached shellsuit that has been shat on by cancerous seagulls. That’s the first impression you have of Stella Martyr. The second impression is that this lead singer has vague memories of seeing Happy Mondays and Joy Division in his youth and is now, finally, going to use these influences in his art. Unfortunately, any hope of cred is dashed when he comes close to tripping himself up in the microphone wire and Worzel Gummidge makes an offputting appearance in the audience standing right in front of the hapless singer. It used to be the kids from the council estates you worried about when interviewing bands, now it’s their fucking fathers (and judging by the rest of the band, they could well be his kids). Highlight of the set is ‘Hospital Fields’ but it’s more Section 25 than Joy Division.

Public Service Broadcasting are an odd mix of analogue tv and digital technology, of old British propaganda films and modern music, albeit played on a banjo on occasions. As their name suggests, they use old, public service information films as a visual backdrop to their live instrumentation of guitar, keyboards, sequencer and drums. With more than a touch of Big Audio Dynamite without Mick Jones’ vocals, there is certainly a danger here of over reliance on the visuals and the instrumentation being a mere distraction. But, against the odds, Public Service Broadcasting pull it off. The set really kicks in with ‘If War Should Come’, built around a mammoth Bootsy Collins like bass,  building to a maelstrom of guitar cacophony as the backdrop depicts England being prepared for the second World War. This song is immediately followed by the raucous ‘Spitfire’ delivering a classic one / two knockout blow that had me dancing and making a spectacle of myself. Unlike the unintentional humour of Stella Martyr, the seriousness of Public Service Broadcasting’s visuals and music is leavened by mainman J. Willgoose, Esq. not talking to the audience but having all vocal responses keyed into his synth. It’s as though Stephen Hawking or Sparky is saying, “It’s great to be here in (long pause) Exeter. We have always wanted to be in (long pause) Exeter.” At one point, Willgoose cocks up his programming but has the wit to press a key that admonishes him with “Silly boy.” New single, ‘Signal 30’ shows them at their best, a collision of raucous guitar and thrilling visual whilst the encore ‘Everest’ takes the audience to the suggested heights.

This review has been a public service. This band is Public Service Broadcasting.

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