After quite a few more gigs by reunited bands this year, I’m still in two minds as to whether they are a good thing or not. In some cases, they have undoubtedly resulted in bands getting the dues they should have had in the first place, others have revitalised careers, and frankly some others have been little more than bands cashing in on the latest vogue.
I’m not convinced that the Pulp re-union – which has taken in various gigs over the past eighteen months or so and nothing else – fits into any of these categories. They were critically lauded anyway, had made it clear they had no interest in making new music, and Pulp were always far too clever to be doing this just for the money.
Judging on this show – which from recent interviews, could well have been Pulp’s last UK show before giving up the band for good – it was perhaps just a bunch of lifelong friends getting together for one last hurrah in a band that for a while in the 90s, made them household names. So yes, this was a nostalgia show, but quite unlike others in that there was context to pretty much everything they did.
For a start, there was no support. Instead the “support” was a collection of “home movies” from the 70s and 80s, featuring or filmed by the band, the whole thing “compered” by a laser with witty comments scrolling across the stage curtain. Typical Jarvis Cocker, really – a wry smile and nod at the past and also his Sheffield roots (as a lot of the laser text was in a Sheffield vernacular, or making references to life in Sheffield. Those out-of-towners who didn’t know the city would likely have been pretty confused!).
Do You Remember The First Time?
A Little Soul
Sorted For Es and Wizz
Little Girl (With Blue Eyes)
Like A Friend
Help The Aged
This Is Hardcore
Sheffield: Sex City
Born To Cry
The unusual pre-gig entertainment did mean one thing, though, and that was more time for Pulp. And they certainly gave the big arena crowd their moneys worth, too – playing for a shade over two-and-a-half hours, over which time I reckon they covered almost every corner of their back-catalogue, with every album (I think!) featured at least once, and stories behind a few more songs were revealed, too.
Jarvis was on fine form, too, chatting away between songs with the crowd as if he was talking to just a handful of people in his front room, and indeed talking so much that he took them over curfew (I did wonder if a song or two ended up being cut from the set). But that genial, friendly nature worked wonders in ensuring in particular that the crowd were onside for the really old, pre-“fame” songs that were played during the set, the majority of which almost all of the crowd will not have known at all. I’ll confess, for some of those songs I didn’t know them either.
Those rarely-touched corners were the real joys of this gig. The proto-disco of Countdown – the song that perhaps first signposted Pulp’s move toward the sound we now know them for – suddenly revealed another role, that of being the basis for later song She’s a Lady, while the encore beginning with the epic sleazeathon of Sheffield: Sex City was a masterstroke (pun kinda intended). And then there was Razzmatazz – so not really that unusual in a Pulp live show, but this seems to hold a special place for the band, and so it should – this was the point where their sound finally emerged into the form that made the band stars after so many years.
It was hardly surprising, of course, that the majority of the set was based around that period. All but a couple of songs from Different Class were aired – although I’m still astonished that half of the crowd apparently didn’t know Monday Morning. Seriously? Elsewhere we were treated to the middle-class-revenge tale of I Spy, which I swear sounds creepier and nastier every time I hear it, and I’m not sure I needed to see Jarvis performing a part striptease before humping the speakers during the grubby, after-dark sex fantasies of This Is Hardcore.
The singles, of course, hadn’t been forgotten by anyone, and the crowd roared along with all of them, climaxing, not surprisingly, with a raucous, celebrationary Common People, a song that over the years has simply cemented it’s place as the greatest (Brit)pop song of the nineties.
Obviously an encore followed it, but it could perhaps be argued that Pulp could have left it at Common People, if nothing else because it is kinda hard to follow that. Pulp never topped it – and going on their material since, I think they knew it, too. After crashing the Britpop party with two albums that lifted the lid on what was really going on behind the curtains of suburbia in the nineties – and what we saw wasn’t exactly pretty and all smiles – and just happened to be full of anthems ready-made to sing-a-long with, it was clear that Pulp tired of being stars very quickly indeed.
Either way, watching Pulp come back in the past couple of years to remind everyone exactly what they missed has been a marvellous experience. A wonderful trip into the past, with songs I never thought I’d hear, and in this case two-and-a-half hours and more of a live band (still) at the peak of their powers. The only down point? After three shows covering seventeen years (I first saw them in 1995), I’ve still not managed to hear Joyriders live…