Public Service Broadcasting and Smoke Fairies: Foundry, Sheffield

After a bit of kerfuffle on Public Service Broadcasting’s Twitter feed, Sheffielders reliased that tonight’s gig was in fact at the University’s Student Union and not at the climbing wall. This wouldn’t be too bizarre to believe, as the boys are known for their quirky audio visual performances. Back with their Race For Space album tour, things are guaranteed to get interesting.

Smoke Fairies play a mixture of melodic folk and moodier rock songs, which sometimes have a retro feel. Dressed in matching gold dresses, the two front women’s voices intertwine, sometimes creating vocals similar to those of Annie Lennox. Musically however, the band has more in common with Fleetwood Mac. Brunette, Katherine Blamire takes the lead in songs such as ‘Wild Winter’ in beautifully high notes, whereas blonde Jessica Davies blesses ‘Misty Version’ and ‘Blood Speaks’ with deeper, darker vocals. The crowd are so captivated by the Smoke Fairies, they boo when the band announce their last and by far best song, ‘Strange Moon Rising’ full of bassy blues guitar and country violin. Whatever genre you’re into (or if you’re convinced you’re not into folk), Smoke Fairies create engaging folk-rock you can’t bear to tear your ears away from.

The last time I saw Public Service Broadcasting was like The Race For Space. I was squished in The Harley for Tramlines 2013 and tonight, they’ve easily filled the Foundry. After a funny animated video on a big screen about a boy who took shoddy videos at gigs, PSB start with the electronic thumping of ‘Sputnik’, during which a giant sputnik with long lit up arms appears. Laptop and guitar extraordinaire, J. Willgoose Esq. is dressed in his trademark corduroy jacket, bow tie and thick rimmed glasses looking like an Oxford professor. He addresses the audience through samples of an electronic voice like a musical Stephen Hawking. He’s programmed his computer to say, “It’s great to be back in Sheffield!”, hilariously says “Fine!” before starting each song and even tells a heckler to “Simmer down!”

No PSB set would be complete without ‘Theme From PSB’ and ‘Spitfire’ from first album, Inform-Educate-Entertain. Black and white clips appear on the screen and on the stack of retro T.Vs piled on the stage, as space-themed songs such as ‘E.V.A’ build tension, before a gentle piano sweeps through the room and all that can be seen are twinkly lights like stars on the pitch-black stage. ‘The Other Side’ is probably the darkest track on the new album thanks to daunting samples of mission control losing signal, then calm descends once more as Smoke Fairies join PSB for a powerful and angelic performance of ‘Valentina’. J. Willgoose Esq returns in a shiny jacket with a three-man brass band for encore ‘Gargarin’ and finishes with the epic ‘Everest’. In light of the Nepal earthquake, a respectful silence fills the room. This is very different from the loud, chanting crowd at Tramlines. After an hour long set, I have fallen even more in love with Public Service Broadcasting’s retro-sampling, dramatic-rocking and video-mixing originality.