Though personal biases are awfully hard to outrun, we usually feign a bit of objectivity in reporting back from live shows. I do not have that in me for this report, on night one of the reunited Pulp at Radio City Music Hall. Pulp’s Different Class (and the rest of their catalog, sure, but that one in particular) meant way too much to me at the time to result in any sort of measured, think-piece-y account of the band and their legacy. Which, honestly, might not add up to all that much in terms of influence? Outside of lovely mid-00s blips like The Long Blondes and Franz Ferdinand, say, I don’t see a lot of contemporary bands aping Pulp. Certainly not American ones. (For better, or probably worse.)
Circa 1996, when music blogs were called Spin magazine, and file-sharing was called ordering CDs from Columbia House under a fake name and then never paying them ever, nothing sounded quite as cool as peak Britpop like Different Class and Elastica. (Blur were OK too, I guess, but it was fun to sidestep that whole Blur/Oasis thing entirely). Smart, funny, sexy. Has Anglophilia taken a hit in recent years? Sure, we still freak out about a band from London every once and a while. (I still get sort of psyched when that first Micachu and the Shapes album comes up on shuffle.) But there doesn’t seem to be a world of acts with enough mystique to build a whole identity around if you were in the market for one? Can you project romantic dreams on to a Hot Chip album? Seems tough? That’s almost certainly just a hopeless lack of objectivity talking, though. I warned you.
Anyway, scribbled notes and girlish glee from last night’s show:
– I was excited to see Chromatics, but their appearance here was less than a cameo, a 30 minutes at most set that started promptly at 8, while the room was nearly empty. They were less important to the show than Jarvis’ mix-tape that played on the PA after them. But, for the record, they sounded fine, a four-piece band with more of a physical thump than their hazy LP. The bass hit so loud it vibrated the speakers, emulating that worn-in vinyl crackle that they always go for.
– The PA music I mentioned was so great. Scott Walker, Donovan, and The Slits projected out on one of the world’s classiest stereos. Do I have the same taste as Jarvis Cocker because he warped me at an early age?
– Is this a tipping point in which I stop seeing StubHub as pure evil and starting accepting its neutral utility? I got a $60 dollar ticket to this unforgettable show for $17, with some out-of-state ticket broker eating the difference, because he overestimated how much money he could make off of second show demand. (There were still plenty of empty seats scattered around.) There might be karmic balance in all of this, after all? Alternate title: I Only Get Outraged When I am Denied Things, When I am Granted Them I Rationalize.
– At one point, Jarvis threw fun-size Snickers at the audience. He did this for a while, in a variety of poses and sudden attempts to startle. “Are you read..SNICKERS!”
– Jarvis taking disco’s temperature from the audience before playing “Disco 2000” was kind of hilarious, given it’s been more or less hip since 2002, and the whole “Disco sucks” thing he mentioned happened a whole grade-school kid’s dad ago. And they had the Chromatics opening! (Which he honestly may not have been aware of).
– Also a private cry for the fact that the future predicted in that song happened twelve years ago.
– Class resentment, which seemed like such a categorically English thing listening to Pulp back when, seems like a vital American concern suddenly (it always was probably, just in hushed tones). But I was struck by how much the OWS generation might get from songs like “Mis-shapes” or “Common People.” And also how little time Jarvis himself would probably have had for self-serious, but super goofy shit like the human microphone or that weird jazz hands business.
– Much like the Portishead show I saw last year, I took a second to ruminate on how much more I enjoyed this show than recent outings by Radiohead, a comparison that while true, is also beyond unfair. Because that band never stopped working, never went away. If they hadn’t payed in New York for 14 years and then played every song from The Bends, well it’s obvious how different that would feel. Not that the lyrics would have been half as sharp and funny as Pulp’s. Just acknowledging the inherent unfairness of continued creative success, basically.
– Speaking of Portishead for a second, it somehow never really occurred to me at the time how informed by trip-hop the sound of “This is Hardcore” was, though it seems pretty obvious now. That song was my personal highlight of the night, Cocker vamping up the majestic balcony steps in spotlight. Humping the stage like Prince or something. In the set order, it followed “Underwear,” one of the best songs ever written about the awkward reality of casual sex (Jarvis explained it as being about committing to something you are suddenly not that into, because hey you are already naked). It subsequently presented the disappointment and disconnection of the grubby porn fantasy version of sex. You can’t win. Those themes are all over Pulp’s catalog, so most any two songs could have a similar carry over. But that specific set placement seemed quite meaningful.
Balcony vamping during “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”
– “We provide a second-hand, slightly shoddy form of glamour.”
– Jarvis gave a few long quotes from The Great Gatsby on stage, which were met with wild applause. Which is both weird and cool. Makes you feel good about a rock audience on the one hand, but also like they don’t know what clapping is for? And that Andy Kaufman just might not have given it the right amount of oomph.
– The very amusing stage banter gave me a genius idea for a rock bio-pic: Steve Coogan plays Jarvis Cocker, but completely ignoring any rise to fame, childhood detail, peaks of excess, or even a regular music career. Just him, ages 44 to 47, milling about town, resigned to his level of fame which isn’t quite what it once was, but isn’t too shabby either. Best idea? Yes.
– Given the puddles of ecstasy every time even the deepest of cuts from Different Class were played are we at a strange moment where that record might even be a little underrated? I mean, it’s one of the best indie-pop albums ever recorded, right? This Pitchfork list is almost a decade old itself at this point, but #61 seems stupid low. Everybody pulling out The 3 EPs by the Beta Band (#23) a lot these days?
– Man, isn’t it weird that even though every generation in history totally believed that the records they listened to when they were 17 were the best records ever recorded, the ones I listened to when I was 17 objectively WERE? Just lucky, I guess.
Do You Remember the First Time?
Sorted for the E’s and Whizz
This Is Hardcore
Like a Friend
Live Bed Show
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_klingman.