Pulp at London Brixton Academy
31st August / 1st September 2011
And I know no-one can ever know which way to head / but dont you remember that you once said that you liked happy endings? / And no-one can ever know if its going to work / but if you try then you might get your happy ending Happy Endings from the album His N Hers, 1994.
Despite the fact that Pulp initially were formed way back in the early 80s, it wasnt until the early to mid 90s on the back of the success of His N Hers and Different Class albums that Pulp really were made bona fide proper pop stars. Jarvis of the mid 90s era was just as likely to be found in the pages of The Sun or Heat as he was in Q or NME (or Melody Maker, remember that kids?). When Britpop exploded, what was previously seen as the Alternative very much became the mainstream. Of The Big Three at that time Blur and Oasis were actually very much The Everyman just depending upon whether you were a Scally from the North or a Mockney from the South. The Roses had disappeared into legal hell, Suede had disappeared into domestic unrest and the Manics were having a major identity crisis. Pulp did actually offer the only real true alternative. Pulp genuinely did seem to be from another time. In the photographs and videos from then, they just didnt seem like anything else around. Also, please remember here that Pulp are the only band of that era that never actually got shit. Ever.
Earlier this year it was announced that Pulp would be reforming for a string of festival dates. Despite a big lie claiming that it would be the original line-up (Cocker is the only original member of the band if we are getting technical about this), the line up most widely recognised as Pulp would be playing again. The Wireless show at Hyde Park earlier this year was brilliant but it relied very much on what you would expect from a festival type show. So for these two nights at Brixton I was hoping for a bit more of a delve into the rare and kitsch. I was not to be disappointed.
The opening act on both nights comes in the form of Baxter Dury. Yes,
son of the legendary Ian Dury. Baxter very much sounds vocally like
his late father. Playing with an intimate backing band he has songs
relying very much on his own experiences through life. These are observational
songs. There are no massive hooks or choruses as such but they are charming
little pieces presumably written as prose rather than songs. Id
never heard anything by him before but he has a certain charisma that
kind of makes you want to listen. Its like a mini story within
five minutes each time. Which is probably why he was chosen as the support
act for Pulp. The masters of the 5 minute soap opera. Check his site
if you feel this kind of thing is for you.
Anyway, thats enough of the foreplay. Do you remember the first time?
To build up the anticipation to their arrival, a large silk screen is raised infront of the stage which allows a laser machine to project questions to the audience. These range from the predictable (Do you remember the first time? Do you want to party?) to the cryptic (Is this a hoax? Is this a huge mistake?) to the out right strange (Do you want to see a dolphin? Followed by a little animation of, yep, a jumping dolphin).
Still behind the screen the band take to the stage with the customary opening strains of Do You Remember The First Time? from the His N Hers album. As the song builds the screen infront drops away to reveal the band just as it hits the first chorus and Brixton Academy basically explodes with one great big simultaneous joygasm. Probably old ladies blocks away from the venue felt unexpectedly a little bit fizzy at the time.
Elsewhere from His N Hers we get Lipgloss which is introduced by Jarvis on the first night as a song that theyve been wanting to play for a long time but they can never get quite right. Apparently. A rare outing for Have You Seen Her Lately? on the first night would surely make even the most hard to please fan weak at the knees and of course we get the 4-minute soap opera of teenage infidelity which is Babies.
I suppose for the band there is a bit of a dilemma to these Brixton shows. Yes, its great to finally be back indoors again after a festival filled summer but two headlining shows in London is likely to bring a lot of fans expecting just the hits. The band judges this just right by pretty much sticking to the hits but playing some old tunes and rarities as well. Just enough to keep everyone happy in fact. From the pre His N Hers era we get Countdown on both nights, a really-to-be-honest-and-frank-here piss poor version of Razzmatazz each night and a fantastic go through O.U. (Gone, Gone) on night one. But of the pre His N Hers era it is a full run through of Sheffield: Sex City in all its 9-minute glory on the second night which really divides the audience. A LOT of people go for a wee during this. A lot. Most of these early singles/B-sides are available on the Pulpintro collection if anyone is interested.
Different Class is widely recognised as being Pulps most successful and most loved album. I defy any person to listen to Common People, Disco 2000, Mis-shapes or Sorted For Es And Wizz and not fall in love with them. Okay, sometimes they may sound a little dated but thats often the price of uniting a particular generation. The aforementioned singles are obviously thrown out both nights with surprisingly Disco 2000 getting the biggest reception by far of any (yes, even Common People). Disco 2000 on the second night is introduced by way of Jarvis doing a whole version of Happy Birthday with full Bee Gees falsetto to commemorate Barry Gibbs birthday. Something Changed, often forgot as the last great single from the album is still one of the simplest yet life-affirming songs I have ever heard. Both nights before Common People they select Bar Italia which fits very well as the calm before the storm. Underwear is played unexpectedly on the first night after Jarvis reads out a letter that someone has thrown onto the stage saying that this group of people have followed them all the way from the Benicassim festival to tonights show and want to see them in their underwear. Live Bed Show and an utterly fantastic Monday Morning are added on night two. The latter of which sees Jarvis going absolutely bonkers onstage which for a man of 47 years old is simply astonishing. My personal only bugbear here is neither F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E nor I Spy. The swines. But then that would only leave Pencil Skirt to complete the album so I can see why.
But I dont mind because, in their own words What exactly do you do for an encore? After the success of Different Class Jarvis had pretty much got everything he wanted from his goal to stardom. Then there was This Is Hardcore (personally my favourite Pulp album). Here is an album always dismissed by people (you know who you are) as being too dark for Pulp. Opening track from the album The Fear and title track aside (both played, the latter only on the second night) its actually a very positive album. I cant understand why people dont like it. This Is Hardcore sees Jarvis aloft the speaker stacks both nights simulating sex with the speaker stacks themselves (night one) or the stage (night two). On night two as part of the encore we get Party Hard, which I am reasonably sure was meant to have been played instead of Underwear the first night. But kids, a criminally underrated and under-listened to album. Do it. Shove it in.
By the time Pulp got around to releasing the We Love Life album in 2001, they had been firmly forgotten about by the general British public. Its a shame really as when they play songs like Sunrise and Wickerman over these two nights (both long epics, not exactly Babies mark 2) its strange to see that they still had, at over 20 years of being a band, places that they could still go to to create new exciting music. Bad Cover Version really should have been a massive single. And if it were put out in 1996 it would have been. It gets a huge reception when played and, even as an avid fan, I felt a bit guilty that even I had forgotten quite how beautiful it is. The Trees is introduced for the first time since the reunion was announced and it seems fitting that, even though it is over a decade old, they are having fun in playing the new songs.
So on reflection it is clear that a world with Pulp in it is much better than a world without Pulp in it. But these reunions are a strange affair. For nostalgic purposes I absolutely love them. Blur at Hyde Park a few years ago were amazing. Suede have been the best they have ever been since they got back together. But I like to think of these shows as that, nostalgia. Pulp do not need to do anything other than what they have already accomplished. They leave in their wake a beautiful back catalogue unblemished by any real foray into shitness. And performance wise these are amongst the best shows I have ever seen by anyone. Jarvis Cocker is still one of the most charismatic frontmen that has ever existed and as a band they are beyond reproach. Very few bands should be considered legendary but Pulp must surely be amongst them. So even if you werent at these shows or have never been fortunate enough to see Pulp live Go home, dig out your copy of Different Class, pretend its 1996 all over again and lets do it, shall we?
Lets all meet up in the Year 2000.
Words and Images - Richard Bull
Setlist Thursday September 1st