Public Service Broadcasting and Pale Blue Eyes at The Fire Station, Sunderland 03/10/22

Just want to make one thing clear before anyone reads any further. There will be nothing negative in this review. No criticisms, no complaints. Because it’s highly unlikely I’ll see a better gig this year, and I go to a lot. If a concert experience can be described as perfect then tonight was it.

The venue – The Fire Station is a relatively new venue to the area. The auditorium was completed in 2019 and was clearly built with a focus on acoustics because the sound inside is fantastic. But it doesn’t only have great acoustics. The staff are friendly and helpful, the bar area great, prices average for a gig venue this good. Inside the auditorium there’s a sizeable standing area with two tiers of comfy seating with perfect views for those who want to sit. What’s not to like?

Pale Blue Eyes open tonight’s show and are a perfect fit as tour support to the headliners. Recent debut album Souvenirs is packed full of references to some of the best commercial ‘indie’ sounds of the 90’s and early 2000’s. As a live act Pale Blue Eyes have a harder edge with songs that are often dominated by keyboards/synths on the recorded versions now dominated by a guitar that brings a real post punk edge to them. Both are excellent. It’s not hard to spot the references, whether intentional or not, to some of the best bands from those earlier days. The music of chart friendly Numan on opener Globe, the disco beat of Madonna can be heard on Dr Pong and there’s even a hint of tonight’s main act on Motionless.

What makes Pale Blue Eyes stand apart from these is the often dreamy vocals of Matthew Board that help give the band their own unique sound. It was also a refreshing change to see a band clearly enjoying themselves on stage without any pretentions whatsoever. The chemistry between all three members obvious with smiles and knowing looks. Set closer Chelsea is a brilliant five minutes+ slice of soaring guitars, deep bass lines and light, feathery vocals. Imagine mixing together the slower sounds of The Jesus and Mary Chain with almost anything by This Mortal Coil and you won’t be far off the mark. Excellent stuff.

Has anyone ever seen a bad Public Service Broadcasting show? No, I didn’t think so. And tonight is no different. There’s a band recorded announcement telling people it’ll all look much better without having to watch it through the 4 inch screen of someone’s mobile, that a few photos are OK and a reminder that any videos will sound awful anyway. Bowie’s ‘Sound & Vision’ then provides the perfect prelude to the band walking on stage.

Most recent album, Bright Magic, features the most whilst not completely dominating the set. Opening with The Visitor you realise just how good this band is at not only producing superb, atmospheric sounds in front of some fantastic lighting but also how their tunes/songs can really stir the emotions. Im Lich (In The Light) builds and build in both tempo and visuals. Bright Magic pays homage to the industry and history of Berlin and Im Lich feels like a celebration of everything that was good about them. Der Rhythmus Der Maschinen summarises the grinding, monotonous beat of heavy industry. Full of heavy, pummelling beats and slicing guitars cutting through some blinding lights again emphasising just how good Public Service Broadcasting are at telling a story through sound and vision. The Pit, People Will Always Need Coal, Progress and, much later, All Out vary from a heavy, industrial punk feel, through an uplifting, almost joyful beat to a culmination of fierce anger and aggression. All are overtly political as they narrate tales of the coal industry through it’s heyday to it’s demise with the miners strike. Images of miners black with dust, pit wheels and lines of unbadged police feel the screens. White Star Liner sees video and stills of Titanic, a celebration of all it was meant to be before it’s devastating demise.

EERA takes over vocal duties for the beautiful, sublime Gib Mir Das Licht, her voice taking you to a place of dreams accompanied by some incredible saxophone. A complete change in tempo introduces one of the best singles of recent years – Blue Heaven. “I know I’m different I do as I please. A spark inside that I can’t hide.” Uplifting, emotional, a driving force of self-belief, ambition and an unwillingness to compromise. Lichtspiel II and III bring an ambient, chilled out atmosphere that wouldn’t have been out of place on side 2 Bowie’s Heroes or Low before “This is a song about a plane” introduces Spitfire, a real crowd pleaser and irresistible dance inducer. The Other Side brings in the first of three from 2015’s The Race For Space. Charting the journey of Apollo 8 the tension is palpable, as is the sense of celebration. Go! Has the whole place moving. Catchy, repetitive, layers and layers of guitars, synths and drums that build and build with a backdrop of screens repeating “Go!”, “Stay”, “Go!”, “Stay”. One of the most moving four minutes you’re ever likely to witness at a gig.

People Let’s Dance opens the encore and is simply joyful, the screens full of pixelated dancing images, the stage full with added brass players and everyone having the time of their lives. The jazz funk dancehall atmosphere continues throughout Gagarin and, just when you think a concert can’t actually get any better Everest takes everyone to another place. Public Service Broadcasting close with Waltz For George, a solemn homage to those who fought at Dunkirk and the place where the great uncle of PSB founding member J. Willgoose, Esq, lost his life.

A Public Service Broadcasting concert isn’t just something to listen to. It’s a completely immersive experience. The sounds, the lights, the screens, the noise, the dancing. Everything just comes together to create something you can completely lose yourself in. A place where nothing else matters apart from what’s happening in front of you. In the space of an hour and 45 minutes I noticed just two phones taking quick snaps and not a single person trying to talk to their mates. No one needed to. Most probably forgot they had a phone in their pocket or that their mate was stood next to them.


Words and Photos by Steve White


Philip Goddard

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