LIVE REVIEW: Public Service Broadcasting @ Bowery Ballroom

Photography by Julie Halpert
Photography by Julie Halpert

Arriving at the ballroom halfway into Kauf’s set, I weave through the intoxicated crowd towards the bar so that I can start catching up. The air is hot and muggy and Kauf is using that to his advantage, mixing tunes that feel submerged in the deep. This one-man synth show has a surprisingly sweet, almost folksy, voice that makes girls cry, “I love you!” from the audience, giving him a chance to show off his boy band smile.

When I notice a man wearing a NASA shirt with two full cups of beer I know that we’re all ready for some PSB. The London duo Public Service Broadcasting recently released their album The Race for Space, an electro-funk sampling of live transmissions from American and Soviet space stations during the late fifties to early seventies. They come dressed in tweedy suit and tie like professors, as if ready to give us kids a history lesson. Or at least it seems so at first. As they speak to us exclusively via pre-recorded sound bites, it becomes clear that these professors are no more than impish Pucks, teasing us with each deadpan repeat of “Thank you.” The girls still cry, “I love you!” but this time they are met with a clear “Simmer down.”

Photography by Julie Halpert
Photography by Julie Halpert

Indeed it’s strange there is no singing. Combine that with the abstract video projections of archival footage this makes for more of a performance art piece than a rock concert. We’re inducted into a new kind of space, one ruled by celestial psychedelic robots commanding us to dance. J. Willgoose, Esq. as the main puppeteer of the Voice mouths along to the words of Leslie Howard and JFK, such that his own voice remains a complete mystery to us, even his breath being inaudible. I begin to wonder how our relationship to voice dictates our experience of intimacy, and whether or not PSB have stumbled onto some secret of celebrity.

On “You’re too kind! New York!” we bid adieu to our conquerors. We leave with our eyes clearer, our heads a little higher in the clouds. Cigarettes taste better at this altitude. We might never come down.