It is perhaps significant that before Public Service Broadcasting arrive on stage in Liverpool this evening we are treated to David Bowie‘s iconic hit, ‘Sound and Vision’. It’s worthy of attention because if you had to describe what kind of live experience a PSB virgin could expect, you may describe it as a collision of these two words. True to form then, the concert tonight is exactly that; we are treated to a stirring visual collage throughout the show, projected on to several large screens that enhance the musical compositions that are equally exhilarating and heartening and ultimately completely uplifting.
The evening begins in subtle fashion after the symbolic Bowie track has concluded. The tender strings of ‘Every Valley’ begin to swell and the band gradually emerge from the rear of the stage as several large miner’s lamps slowly descend from the high ceiling of the substantial stage in Liverpool’s historic Olympia venue. Richard Burton’s rich and dignified voice emerges from the shadows, providing an elysian vision of a South Wales community that only exists now in the memory, lending the moment a cinematic quality that live music rarely achieves.
The current tour took in North America, mainland Europe and the UK before the band put the breaks on over the winter. Returning a few months later, the band are still celebrating the critical success of their third album Every Valley, which provides a distinct and gripping narrative of the rise and fall of the South Wales mining industry. The setlist this evening therefore copies the opening structure of the record and when ‘The Pit’ follows, the stage come alive. Large mineheads frame each side of the stage and archive footage presents the optimism, danger and spirit of the industry that the track inherently conveys, and J Willgoose Esq. and company craft a jagged but hopeful musical experience to accompany these themes.
This buoyant narrative continues with ‘People Will Always Need Coal’. There’s no attitude on display here. This isn’t about fitting into a genre. Fundamentally, Public Service Broadcasting are storytellers and sometimes you forget this is a concert because the story is so engrossing. This track marks the disequilibrium of the record’s narrative and the band wisely step towards older material from first album Inform – Educate – Entertain before the evocative story reaches its apex too soon. Instead, we’re reminded of why PSB emerged as such a thrilling alternative on the British music scene with the savage ‘Signal 30’ before the electronic beats of ‘Night Mail’ subtly contrast with the steam age presented on the large screens. Like many PSB tracks, there is a moment when a song reaches a tense musical peak before clattering down towards its conclusion; this track is blessed with a wonderfully satisfying example when the band seem to combine with absolute clarity to provide a thrilling conclusion to a song that has been shaken up ever so slightly.
‘E.V.A’ and ‘Korolev’ provide a reminder of the band’s previous record before we return to South Wales with the help of Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut. The band always seem to produce one track that has the ability to have a truly emotional impact on the listener. On the latest album it’s ‘They Gave Me a Lamp’ which charts the experience of women during the industrial unrest in the region. Combining the evocative narration of local woman, Margaret Donovan, with Haiku Salut’s tender instrumentation and vocals is an incredibly moving concoction this evening and this more gentle aspect of the concert continues with ‘You + Me’ and ‘Progress’. Lisa Jen provides female vocals on both tracks and although they are perfect for the former, the latter lacks the spirit that exists on record and the song’s chorus sadly gets lost amidst the multi-textured melodies.
From this point onwards, the pace and spirit increases, although the cinematic visuals never abate. ‘Spitfire’ thrills in its celebration of endeavour and ‘The Other Side’ achieves similar results but in more subtle, cinematic tones before ‘Go’ allows the supportive crowd to have a bit of a singalong as well.
Ultimately, the evening is all about emotion and the encore embodies this concept brilliantly. ‘All Out’ is full of anger, ‘Gagarin’ is a joyful release full of swinging horns and leaping astronauts and ‘Everest’ is full of an awe-inspiring spiritual majesty – this sentiment inherent in all three songs pretty much sums up the creative experience this evening in Liverpool.
EVERY VALLEY IS OUT NOW.
Photos: Iain Fox