Friday, 11 December 2015

Memories of 2015 gigs 12 & 13

#12: Public Service Broadcasting
Y Plas, Cardiff University - 27th November 2015
Support: François And The Atlas Mountains

Y Plas is Cardiff Uni's nightclub. It used to be called Solus and we saw The Joy Formidable there a few years ago. Since then it has undergone a radical refurbishment and now looks like a hipster bar. It doesn't look like a place for gigs other than the large stage. It doesn't feel much like a gig venue either. If the support band was anything to go by, it also doesn't sound like a gig venue. They were bloody terrible, but I'm not sure how much of that was the venue or the band themselves. They were tuneless and directionless. They reminded me of Vampire Weekend; I hate Vampire Weekend.

Not the greatest of starts, but Public Service Broadcasting have never disappointed. MrsRobster and I have seen them twice before, but never in a venue this size. They've certainly grown in stature since their second album - the brilliant 'The Race For Space' - was released. Their live show was always impressive, even in tiny venues in front of a couple hundred people. The visuals that help tell the stories of their songs remain, but now everything seems to have been upscaled. Even the band line-up has been expanded. As well as J. Willgoose Esq., Wrigglesworth and their trusty visuals engineer Mr B, they are now joined by multi-instrumentalist J. F. Abraham and a three-piece brass section. Bigger venues afford more room on stage, therefore the luxury of being able to make the songs more 'live'.

The new material is stunning. The tension in tracks like The Other Side is played out really effectively, while Go! is the band's first bonafide singlalong track, the audience punching the air and chanting "Go!" throughout the chorus. Not bad for a band with no vocalist! Of course, the old faves were churned out too, but Signal 30, Everest, Spitfire and the others all now benefit from the enhanced live sound. Gagarin saw the brass players enjoy a few funky dance steps while a 'spaceman' boogied behind the drumkit. Willgoose's robotic banter with the crowd elicited many a chuckle. For a couple of nerds who love history and electronic music, Public Service Broadcasting are a surprisingly brilliant rock and roll band. The bigger spaces clearly do not intimidate them, they seem to relish it, and better still they pull it off, even if Y Plas isn't really the best place to be as an audience member.


#13: The Charlatans
The Tramshed, Cardiff - 9th December 2015
Support: Frankie & The Heartstrings, Yucatan

The Tramshed is a brand new venue situated in the heart of Cardiff’s Grangetown area. It’s part of an old building previously owned by the council and used as a depot for trams and buses in years gone by. While sone of the building is still under development, The Tramshed venue opened its doors just a few weeks ago and it’s already making a big impression.

I have to say I was impressed. It’s at the smaller end of mid-sized venues (no bad thing at all), has a balcony and a well-staffed bar – hurrah! Having hosted the mighty Public Enemy last month, The Tramshed welcomed the Charlatans this week.

Opening were Yucatan from North Wales. The best way to describe them is a Welsh version of Sigur Rós. Their album is wonderful and will feature in a Welsh Wednesday post in the new year (which is why I’m not posting a track of theirs here). Live they are unable to replicate the full lush sound of strings and brass like they do on record but they made a good fist of things. They did seem to have a mini-orchestra of bells played by the drummer and bassist which proved intriguing to those of us watching.

Frankie & The Heartstrings are the main tour support. I’ve never been particularly taken with anything I’ve heard from them before, but hoped their live show would turn me on to them. It didn’t. Apart from the songs being as ordinary as it gets, their frontman pranced around like the lovechild of Morrissey and Brett Anderson while subjecting us to some of the most banal attempts at audience interaction I’ve endured at any gig for some time: “You all looking forward to seeing the Charlatans, yeah? LOUDER! You all looking forward to seeing the Charlatans?” Yawn. The most interesting thing I can say about them is that they were selling their new Christmas single[1] as a piece of Christmas cake. It has a download code on the wrapping, see?

As for the headliners? Well the only previous time I saw the Charlatans was at Exeter University when they toured their first album a generation ago in 1990! Then they were a fledgling flock of floppy-fringed indie kids with a slightly nervy stage presence and unremarkable performance. How things change. Tim Burgess today, with his magnificent bleached toadstool haircut, is a brilliant frontman. He does not have to indulge in silly mundane banter with the crowd. All he has to do is beckon the audience to raise their arms simply by reaching out his hands palms up and wriggling his fingers.

The set was superb too, with top-notch performances of several tracks from the bands current album ‘Modern Nature’, their best for some years, and a shedload of old faves – Weirdo, North Country Boy, The Only One I Know, Oh! Vanity, One To Another, Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over – you name it, they probably played it. In fact they even gave an outing to Opportunity which was a real surprise. Visually, the projections and films onto the hi-tech digital backdrop really added to the experience, and the lights were fantastic as well.

The only downside of the whole night was the sound. It was ridiculously loud. Now you know me, I like a bit of volume as much as the next man. I’m not getting wimpy in my old age, but sometimes there is such a thing as too loud. Like when the overall sound just becomes a rumble and an audible blur. At times, that’s what we got. A guy I know who was also at the show and is a sound engineer himself reckons the "top end on the vocals" are what caused the damage. It was a real shame as everything else was spot on. MrsRobster’s ears are still ringing as I speak (true! Not good.)

Of course, Sproston Green closed the proceedings and was as spectacular as the rest of the show. This was our final gig of 2015 and it was a hell of a way to finish. While the Slaves show was difficult to beat in terms of standards of the entire line-up, I have to rate the Charlatans right up there as the best band I’ve seen this year. Probably. After 25 at times challenging years, they’ve still got it, without a doubt.


[1] Recorded with Edwyn Collins, no less. Not one of his finest decisions if you ask me…


  1. I continue to be in awe. I have to live through your lively show posts.

  2. Seems like you and Mrs. Robster had a great evening with PSB. I didn't knew that they have new material out. Sadly bands like These doesn't appear in my Country.