The last time Pulp played a gig in New York City, at Hammerstein Ballroom on June 16 1998, (appropriately Bloomsday given erudite frontman Jarvis Cocker’s fondness for noting anniversaries) President Bill Clinton was in the ugly thick of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the FDA had just approved Viagra, and the north and south towers of the World Trade Center still stood sentry over lower Manhattan.
Tumble forward 14 years to New York’s grand Radio City Music Hall this past week and the recently reformed Pulp (that of the vintage Different Class lineup) is rapturously received as rock royalty for two sold-out, buzzed-over shows. The adoring New York embrace of Pulp’s resurrection is a grin-worthy shocker for this esoteric, very English band that, even during the heyday of Britpop, never really broke Stateside in a splashy way.
At Wednesday night’s show, the second of two nights, the band effortlessly picked up from where they left off a decade and half ago for, as Cocker observed, a “hardcore” audience of not only middle-aged, yes-we-remember cognescenti, but a far younger pool of twentysomethings, small children in 1995, for whom Cocker has become an iconic figure of bespectacled cool. Even more fascinating was the realisation that Cocker’s lyrics, from the sly menace of ‘I Spy’ to the aggravated anthem ‘Common People’, seem even more suited to these anxiously observant, overtly-sexualised, socially isolated and celebrity-obsessed times.
The brisk, beating heart of Pulp is, of course, Jarvis: one part irreverent Gumby and two parts sexy Pan-with-a-Ph.D.. Bounding across the stage like a series of exclamation marks and ellipses, Cocker swayed atop monitors, prowled between his bandmates and swiveled his hips with a cheeky verve that left Elvis Presley in the dust. Or nearly so, as Cocker, athletic but always slightly awkward, caught his breath between the seductive lines of ‘This is Hardcore’ or ‘Underwear’ with cheerfully verbose chats, celebrating songwriter Richard Berry’s birthday by wailing a few lines from ‘Louie Louie’ or noting Kurt Vonnegut’s passing that day in 2007.
Reportedly, Tuesday night’s show featured interludes pulled from The Great Gatsby and chocolate bars tossed into the front rows (Jarvis did fling one handful of candy to the crowd early in tonight’s set). It was if Cocker, taking a hiatus from his BBC 6 Music show, Sunday Service until early September, brought the learned, laid-back spirit of that show and his radio presenter chops with him, front-selling songs with murmured witticisms: “Relationships don’t always work out, that’s why we have songs,” he observed before launching into a surprising encore of ‘Bad Cover Version’, from 2001’s We Love Life.
Significantly, Cocker and his Pulp mates didn’t just spew a batch of hits at the audience, but sought a tangible connection to every song in their set, from ‘Babies’ to ‘Disco 2000’ to ‘Sunrise’. The week prior, Cocker had performed at the Whitney Museum in his side project, Relaxed Muscle, to accompany the Michael Clark dance company and he brought the dancers onstage at Radio City for ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.’ ‘Something Changed’ was warmly dedicated to a pair of newlyweds and Cocker hailed the Bowery Hotel and friends the Venture Brothers and DJ trio Misshapes prior to Pulp’s nightcap of ‘’Mis-Shapes.’
Pulp was very overdue for an assignation with New York and the experience was a delicious, dirty romp between the sheets with a fond note, and a wee Snickers bar, left on our pillow the next day. And yes, we’re applying our lip gloss, slipping on a pencil skirt and patiently waiting, hoping that Jarvis, Steve, Candida, Nick and Mark call us back and don’t keep us waiting sadly by the telephone for another decade.
Photo by Damien McGlynn for last year’s Electric Picnic coverage.
Setlist for April 11, 2012:
Do You Remember The First Time?
Sorted for E’s And Wizz
F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E
This Is Hardcore
Like a Friend
Bad Cover Version