Public Service Broadcasting – Go!
If you had the chance to see a band you love in a really incredible setting, you would go, wouldn’t you? It’s not that big a deal for me to go down to New York for a show but it’s not like I’ll make the three hour trip just to go to any concert. It has to be special or it has to be the band’s only northeast appearance. Sometimes it’s both.
This past Saturday I was down in New York to see one of two special shows by Public Service Broadcasting at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, playing underneath the Space Shuttle Enterprise. I mean, come on …
Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the stage is in the lower right of the picture, you can just make out the drum kit and projection screen.
I would have traveled to New York to see them play at any venue but to perform songs from The Race for Space (among others) on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the shadow of an actual space shuttle?! Worth it. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I arrived about half an hour before the doors opened, eager to pick up my ticket from the will call window. Five or six people were there to do the same but when the museum said doors open at nine, they were serious. The line grew and I wound up talking to the people around me, including one guy who had cashed in frequent flyer miles and come over from England just for these gigs. This was not an uncommon story, as I would learn a little later on.
At 9:00 p.m. (and not a minute before) they let us in, got us through security and handed us our tickets (including two free beer tickets!) and ushered us back outside to make our way down the pier to the elevator. From there we went up three levels to the flight deck, then walked past some pretty impressive airplanes on our way down to the space shuttle pavilion. By this time it had gotten dark and the Intrepid seemed even bigger without the ability to clearly make out its lines. Finally we entered the room where the Enterprise was on display with several other exhibit panels and objects, including some Star Trek stuff. Those two free beers? Commemorative Star Trek Golden Anniversary Ale (there is also a Star Trek exhibit at the museum since the original series first aired 50 years ago). A stage and screen had been set up in the rear corner of the pavilion. It was certainly the most unusual concert venue I can remember.
Someone on the museum staff welcomed everyone and remarked that she’d heard there were a lot of people from out of town. She said, “How many people came here from the UK?” Close to a third of the room shouted out. The west coast had a decent showing, then she said, “Anyone from the south, like Texas?” and one young guy just diagonally behind me gave a Texas-sized shout. In the remaining few minutes before the band came on, the couple beside me, who had come from the UK (husband and wife, she had surprised him with this trip as a birthday present) got talking with the young Texan. He turned out to be in town for a conference that had been taking place there earlier that day. He wore a t-shirt with an astronaut on it and in fact he’d been wearing a real space suit just that morning as part of the presentation his group from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University had done. If ever there was a guy who belonged at this show, it was him.
In short, we were a devoted, friendly crowd, appreciative of the surroundings. That’s my favorite set up. I never mind being there by myself when it feels like that. When you catch a stranger’s eye and you both give the smile or nod and kind of look around like, can you believe it?! Standing here under a fucking space shuttle with our Star Trek beers about to watch PSB play songs about Sputnik and Apollo 11. I am not that much of a space aficionado but I was a history major and there’s no denying that this was something special.
I’ve been searching for a way to describe the show and for the past couple of nights I’ve opened up the computer and stared at this draft and typed a little and deleted more. Nothing felt right. I had picked out the video above because I already blogged Gagarin last year (when I first learned about PSB) and because it’s a live clip and captures the visual elements of their performance. I also rather liked the directive of Go! – as if to say, you should go see Public Service Broadcasting if you ever get the chance. But what to say about the show wasn’t coming to me.
It turns out that dragging my feet has resulted in the happy coincidence that today is the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the subject of this song. I hadn’t known it was today until I started seeing all manner of celebratory images being shared on social media. I thought back to the show and the setting and the crowd.
They didn’t only play songs off of The Race for Space, nearly half were from their earlier album Inform-Educate-Entertain. To some degree, that’s what their music does, though I don’t think that’s exactly what they set out to do. But what I do feel it does, and what Saturday night’s show in particular did for me, was allow me to be wrapped up in an experience so removed from the every day. Listening to songs that illustrate the triumphs and tragedies of mankind, watching old footage of people no longer alive, while people very much alive play the music while we dance in the audience, and every now and then turn around and look up at a hulking physical reminder of all of that. It gave me goosebumps.
After the show was over, we all headed back out into the open air to this.
New York City, all lit up on a summer night. Perfection. This is what it’s all about.