Popular music is littered with samples from the past, whether its Kanye swiping riffs from Nina Simone or Avicii cribbing an Etta James verse. English rock duo Public Service Broadcasting is similarly infatuated with borrowing sounds, but you won’t find any of the band’s samples on old soul records. Instead, the group’s frontman, J. Willgoose, Esq., combs through propaganda films, informational videos and radio broadcasts to gather the spoken word clips that underscore the band’s heady instrumental rock.
Accompanied by a drummer named Wrigglesworth and a collection of black and white projections, the London duo took the stage at Schubas on February 25, 2014, and performed tracks from its debut LP, Inform – Educate – Entertain.
Public Service Broadcasting certainly isn’t the first pair of musicians to combine collages of found sounds with musical accompaniment. The group is clearly influenced by the Books, the New York duo that dug through thrift stores and home videos to find the samples that populated its understated acoustic songs. However, whereas the Books often found humor and melancholy amid its menagerie of obscure snippets, PSB seems more interested in stringing together fragments of spoken word that help solidify the theme of each track. On “ROYGBIV,” you hear people talking about color and art, while statements pertaining to impossibly tall mountains oversee the soaring post-rock strains of “Everest”. It’s a bit on the nose at times, but its presented in a way that never calls its earnest intentions into doubt.
The duo had to leave its stacks of old televisions back in England, so the crowd at Schubas was left to watch the video accompaniment via a single projector. While the band’s highly synchronized visuals were certainly impressive, they were handily outshined by the actual performance of each track.
Stationed behind a laptop, Willgoose triggered samples while alternately strumming a banjo for “Theme from PSB,” or picking up a guitar to deliver the chugging chords of “Signal 30.” Likewise, Wriggleworth didn’t seem to break a sweat providing the fast-paced rhythms that populate “Night Mail.” If anything, the pair was a bit too precise at times, delivering renditions that made few, if any, derivations from the band’s original recordings. Still, it’s hard to fault a band that punctuates each of its songs with a recording of a polite British fellow saying, “Thank you, very much.”