For the first time in 14 years, Pulp took the stage on American soil, at Radio City Music Hall in New York this week. In the years that have processed since that band’s dissolution, frontman Jarvis Cocker hasn’t dared to shy away from his libidinous propensity to dance with himself and sing his romances like they’d only happened yesterday. The band was predictably tight, a hot shower of Cocker’s cold ones.
I made it to Pulp’s show Wednesday (April 11), the first concert scheduled before they announced a second, additional show on April 10 (“You must be the hardcore.”). These are the warm-ups to this weekend’s headlining spot at Coachella.
It’s the sole time I’ve seen the group, making it easy to, well, remember the first time. Here are 10 things I loved:
1) The multi-tiered stage setup. The five core, backing members were staggered over two levels, some pushed up front, Candida Doyle and Nick Banks ruling over the top next to giant blumming-drum, which Cocker would occasionally thud with the mallett attached to his guitar straps. They performed under the perceived neon lights of their own logo, a poetic turf and ample playground.
2) The sexiness of the speak-singing of “F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E.” was second-only to jaw- and pants-dropping “This Is Hardcore.” Just like the band’s backing on this song is the score to a non-existent porno from the ’80s, Cocker vamped up and down Radio City’s stairs leading to the mezzanine, pausing in a spotlight on each womping “1,” biting his fingers and lovemaking with his own shadow.
3) Prior to performing “Bad Cover Version,” the lithe frontman made a profanely simple adage: “Relationships don’t always work out. That’s why we have songs, to get over it.”
4) Cocker’s dances are like a person who has never taken dance courses trying to emulate somebody who has. His weird little hand-flips and shimmies, thrusts and kicks are executed to the best of his ability, where it looks perfect in his head. But he had some of his finer gestures in “Pencil Skirt,” where he breezily “ahhed” as he “zipped up his fly.”
5) Mark Webber actually showed signs of life in one of the more static guitar lines from Pulp’s catalog, “Babies,” and — bless him — I think I saw him smile the whole time.
6) Laser pointer script asking if we’d like to see a dolphin. (You can guess what the response was.)
7) I love the thin line between mockery and acceptance of social/scene strata in performances like “Sorted For E’s and Wizz,” “Mis-Shapes” and (of course) “Common People.” Introducing each in his banter-heavy style, Cocker never compromised fans’ heartfelt love of those songs by trying to force his old working-class perspective, or update his narratives with a modern twist. Instead, he reiterated the story behind “Common People” for those who love hearing it again and again: there are just some people out there who still “slum” it. That’s as far as the conversation went.
8) Radio City is a weird venue for rock shows, because you can’t spread out, and you’re in an assigned seat that you’re never going to actually sit in. You pay a hefty price to stand in one very particular spot. However, people’s arms were everywhere on “Disco 2000.” You looked great, nerds.
9) A small video camera captured the faces of very excitable audience members during “I Spy,” a literal interpretation of Cocker’s eye-spying.
10) After one particularly long monologue: “You haven’t come here for a night of spoken word, have you? Sorry.”
Pulp’s set list, April 11:
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