Friday, 23 April 2010

Broadcasting on your frequency

Years ago I was walking along the Embankment with my dad and looking across the river I commented on the ugliness of the South Bank. My dad, with a faint smile, said that the war had just finished and they'd all needed cheering up at the time. Since then I've taken a great liking to the place and when I saw that Broadcast were playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall I bought up some tickets (after a bit of dithering that meant we ended up sitting on the very back row).

I only got into Broadcast through their most recent album "Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age". It topped Wire magazine's 2009 run down and it's got a really cool cover and that was good enough for me. I've listened to it a lot during my commute. The extremely varied tracks come and go so quickly - there are some I'm not mad on but mainly I wish a lot of them lasted longer, ones like "One million Years Ago"and "Let It Begin".

While I can think of half a dozen things that may have influenced them it's still the most original album I've heard for years. I was walking along the other day when my right headphone konked out, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" continued to grate into my left ear but the other was getting the sounds of a car alarm and some passing children and the high street in general. Maybe that sounds terrible (try it) but it was not dissimilar to one of the less great tracks on the album. It's the same with bus brakes and the start of "Never Understand".

Anyway, the concert. We got there just in time to hear the remaining support act furiously sawing away at his cello for about thirty seconds before the lights came up and we spent the next half hour in the bar. Broadcast started off facing each other over dimly lit consoles that they tweaked to produce a heavy track that went on for a bit too long really, a good ten minutes at least of electronic vipp noises with percussion that sounded like some huge wooden sprocket and treadle.

After that the male half of the band picked up one the guitars that I had assumed had been positioned on stage for feedback purposes only. The track they then played was "Corporeal" - good enough for me to be buying its album.

From this point on the music got more interesting with the noises becoming more intricate and Trish Keenan's vocals more focussed than the earlier portentous wailing. The guitar got another outing for a naggingly familiar riff. It did my brain in until I finally placed it - it was from "I Could Be Happy" - the bit where the guitar really breaks about halfway through into an oriental sounding cascade. I hadn't expected that.

Visually the show was dominated by a continuous flow of images onto one screen - it started off with what seemed like footage from an old black and white sci fi film giving a distorted, alien's eye view of the planet. Other images in conjunction with some effects-channelled vocals often gave off an eerie vibe - which I'm sure is their aim. The Wicker Man, at the instigation of the likes of Jonny Trunk and Bob Stanley, seems to have been seeping through this corner of indie for years.

Probably the most effective image was when the singer cast a stark shadow onto a brightly coloured backdrop for the duration of an almost lullaby-ish song. Standing in front of the black space of her own shadow, bathed in the multi-coloured projection, it looked as though she'd stepped out of the image.

Then all of a sudden it was over, and I knew we weren't going to get an encore. Brilliant.

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