Public Service Broadcasting brought their imaginative Space Race to Philly

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Public Service Broadcasting | Photo by John Vettese
Public Service Broadcasting | Photo by John Vettese

When J. Wilgoose Esquire and Wrigglesworth of Public Service Broadcasting took to the stage at World Cafe Live last night, I wasn’t sure how their live act would translate from their recorded work. For those not familiar, the London duo plays music around samples of old documentary footage provided by the British Film Institute. This probably works very well in an alternative venue or gallery setting where everyone is watching intently but upstairs at World Cafe Live, given that many are eating meals and hanging at the bar, I didn’t know if full attention would be given to the show.

The gentlemen sported glasses reminiscent of 1960’s BBC news reporters and instead of speaking, Wilgoose used samples to trigger his stage banter. At one point he even instructed the sound engineer to turn up his guitar via a sampled instruction:  “Can I have more guitar please?” “Can I have less guitar please?” “Thank you!”

Musically, Wilgoose and Wrigglesworth were tight with the latter drumming in a skittish, almost drum-and-bass style throughout.  Wilgoose deftly handled guitars, samplers, and keyboards, many times simultaneously.  The main attraction, though, were the films.

While Public Service Broadcasting’s first album Inform – Educate – Entertain used footage about a variety of topics, the new album The Race for Space, is about just that.  Songs such as “Gagarin” and “E.V.A.” were accompanied by footage of cosmonauts training on a centrifuge, being hailed by the Russian government, and the multimedia show captivated the crowd. When “Signal 30,” and the funky WWII propaganda number “Spitfire” from Inform started up, people were pretty much freaking out.

However, there were points where Wrigglesworth’s drumming drowned out some of the samples. Also the nuance of the recordings were lost; most songs were at the same volume and energy level so they kind of meshed together.  Only “The Other Side,” allowed the duo to slow down and show their more atmospheric side.  I don’t think most were being as picky as me, though; when “Everest” ended the set, the boisterous applause was punctuated by “we’re not worthy” gestures from some in the front. Public Service Broadcasting drew a large and enthusiastic crowd for their Philadelphia debut and last night of tour and I definitely see them playing larger venues next time around.

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