Pulp – Royal Albert Hall – 3/31/12

Pulp

Royal Albert Hall (London, UK)

March 31, 2012

When Pulp got back together for a festival tour last year, the band’s website featured a slideshow of questions, asking everything from “Is this an accident waiting to happen?” to “Is this a miracle?”  Jarvis Cocker and co. all knew the enormous expectations thrust upon them, and they themselves wondered if a Pulp reunion was indeed a good idea. But it turned out no one had to worry: the 2011 tour was a resounding success, and the Sheffield group played like the entire last decade never happened.

Roughly seven months since their last show (unless you are counting the two songs they played at the NME Awards), Saturday night’s gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall, organized by the Teenage Cancer Trust, marked the beginning of their 2012 world tour. With the weight of expectation off their backs, there was a loose, fun, easygoing atmosphere about the whole show, with Jarvis, as wittily charming as ever, causally conversing with the crowd throughout.

Beginning with a video questionnaire that mimicked their website—one that humorously asked how many holes it took to fill the Albert Hall—the band quickly took to the stage to pound out the darkly romantic “Do You Remember The First Time?” before jumping into the class war anthem “Mis-Shapes.” The entire sold-out venue, which is massive by the way, immediately jumped to their feet and sang along.

The most astonishing thing as Pulp wound their way through their set was how well they performed. Reading about it is one thing, but hearing it was another—it truly felt like it could have been 2002 or, hell, even 1996. Perhaps even more wondrous was Jarvis himself. For a man pushing 50, he was constantly on the move, dancing and jumping on top of the amps, gesturing as wildly as a theater actor as he sang. He even reminded everyone what made him an unlikely British sex symbol in the ‘90s, frequently thrusting his hips about. (Also, during the decadent “This Is Hardcore,” as he sang “Come over here, babe, and talk in the mic,” he placed the microphone over his crotch.) Compared to his contemporaries, it’s something that only Jarvis could pull off.

But despite the size of Royal Albert Hall and the huge, flashing “PULP” light display, there was a surprising intimacy to the show. Jarvis often paused between songs to speak with the audience, telling seemingly improvised anecdotes that introduced a few songs. For instance, he asked everyone to imagine themselves getting into the backseat of his car, where you both would drive to a service station on the highway and eventually discover the rave described in “Sorted For E’s & Wizz.” Another time, he grabbed a flashlight with a camera attached and addressed people in the crowd with it as the band launched into the menacing stalker story “I Spy.”

Mostly, though, Jarvis’ asides were moments of levity. Before the band played the vengeful “Bad Cover Version,” he wanted to ensure the audience didn’t think he was a “mean” guy since many of his songs dealt with themes of revenge. So, like a teacher who just wants his students to calm down, he threw pieces of chocolate into the crowd. Just after, he realized how hot he was. “Should I take off my jacket?” he inquired to the swooning fans. The teases continued: “How about my tie?”

Besides these moments, the show’s intimacy had largely to do with the beguiling personal streak that ran through the night. Here was a band taking stock of their past and pushing towards their future. There were a couple of firsts for the group: It was their first time playing at Royal Albert Hall, for one, and, inspired by Paul McCartney’s performance of “Blackbird” a few nights before, the band decided to play We Love Life deep cut “The Birds In Your Garden” for the first time since the early 2000s. Jarvis also brought out former Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley to play on the last couple of tracks.

Yet, the sweetest surprise of the night came in the encore. Since their reunion, the band had only selected songs from their last (and best) four albums, ranging from their breakthrough His ‘N’ Hers to their underrated swan song We Love Life. In fact, the band had been kicking around in some form or another since the late ‘70s. “This is pretty well-known,” Jarvis laughed, “but it took [Pulp] a few years to wear people down.” He then introduced his sister, Saskia, and his childhood friend, Jill, who assisted the band in performing “My Lighthouse,” Pulp’s first single, taken from 1983’s It. It was a touching coda, to say the least. Then, of course, the group closed out the show with two of their best singles, the hormonally charged “Babies” and then glitzy, lovelorn “Disco 2000.”

With the Britpop legends heading off to the States in a little over a week, any fan who has tickets to go can be rest assured they are in for an incredible night. Side note: Yes, they played “Common People” to end off the main set, and yes, it sent everyone’s arms hurdling to the heavens.

P.S. Kudos to opening act (and Horrors side-project) Cat’s Eyes for playing a pretty good warm-up set too, which included a cover of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic classic “Lucifer Sam.”

Set list:

Do You Remember The First Time?

Mis-Shapes

Razzmatazz

Something Changed

Sorted For E’s & Wizz

I Spy

The Birds In Your Garden

Bad Cover Version

Like A Friend

This Is Hardcore

Sunrise

Bar Italia

Common People

Encore:

My Lighthouse

Babies

Disco 2000

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