Friday, 12 August 2011

Pulp gig [29th July 2011 @ Festival Hall]

Sheffield indie pop/rock outfit Pulp formed in 1978, then had a fairly underground following for most of the 80s before they started to hit the big time in the mid-90s in the heart of the Britpop movement. Their 1995 album Different class is one the best albums of all time, one of the few records from the Britpop era which still sounds just as great now as it did then. It's a top-to-bottom classic of intelligently catchy songs oozing with sleaze and debauchery.

Attending the mens' room before the gig, I overheard a seemingly tipsy fellow say to his friend at the urinal that he was excited to be seeing Pulp and that he had a bit of a "man crush" on frontman Jarvis Cocker. Lanky, nerdy and middle-aged, Cocker is an unlikely mainstream sex-symbol, but perhaps not too far-fetched for those who spent their free time at school studying in the library.

The gig started in a very interesting fashion, with a light-show where words were projected above the stage enticing the crowd and revving them up for the show that was about to unfold. Just when you thought that the words would come to an end, they kept on going. It was the ultimate gig-tease, and a perfect opener for a band as deliciously sleazy as Pulp. The stage was set up with the PULP logo in big neon letters, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd stumbled upon the flux capacitor and had been beamed back to the mid-90s during their heyday.

Opening with the His 'n hers anthem Do you remember the first time?, Jarvis and company entertained the crowd with a blistering 2-hour set which focused mainly on their peak late-90s output. Jarvis was easily the most entertaining and charismatic front-man I have ever seen, his anecdotes and chatter between songs being as much part of the entertainment as the music itself.

Upbeat anthems Disco 2000 and Babies got the crowd into party mode, while the more provocative numbers like Pencil-skirt, I spy and This is hardcore reminded us of all those times we disobeyed the band and read along with the lyrics while listening to the CD (most Pulp albums have fine-print in them asking the listener to not read-along while listening to the music).

The first set closed with their most famous song, Common people, an anthem for the hundreds of fans who were crammed into the poorly-ventilated "Festy hall". Returning for a short encore (including the lesser-known B-side Like a friend and glammy Hardcore single Party hard), they concluded the show the same way I first heard Pulp on CD -- by playing Mis-shapes, the rocking call-to-arms opener of Different class.

Sometimes when bands reform in their middle-age, it tarnishes their legacy. Pulp have aged very gracefully, and this gig was an excellent trip down memory lane.

[For the first gig in a while, I went-easy on the bootleg multimedia and tried to enjoy the moment more, which turned out to be a good move. There's only so much grainy footage we need on YouTube.]

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