Public Service Broadcasting were an obvious choice when it came to programming Festival of the Moon, which marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s mission into space. The London outfit’s 2015’s album The Race For Space does, after all, tell the story of the US-Soviet space race through vintage propaganda samples.
They play the album in full, marking the close of their live commitments for the foreseeable future. There’s little evidence of end of tour celebrations, beyond songwriter J. Willgoose Esq.’s threat to put their satellite stage prop in a skip. Time on the road has nonetheless made them a compelling live act that succeed where many other electronica acts fail.
A bank of video screens flicker with archive space race footage that, when combined with Luke Jerram’s giant moon installation, create a sense of place. They also bring the personal touch to their material: an energetic three-piece brass section joins them for selected tracks and a dancing spaceman appears during the pulsing funk of ‘Gagarin’.
These theatrical touches tease out the music’s intrinsic drama, from suspense (‘The Other Side’) to elation (‘Go!’). Concise when they threaten to become prog-rock – especially on the driving ‘Sputnik’ - the instrumental tracks follow an emotional arc that’s only broken when they expand the set with favourites from 2013’s debut album Inform-Educate-Entertain and 2017’s Every Valley.
They close on a high with ‘Everest’, its shoegaze layers building into a mood of hope and suggesting new heights for the band to climb with their next release.