1 Sep 2011: Brixton Academy London
Whilst Liam Gallagher is having his anorak trend setter looted accidentally by underage rioters, Damon Albarn is composing his high-brow fair trade avant-garde amongst Congo tribes, and Richard Ashcroft is drowning the cats out of failed return despair, Jarvis Cocker, getting to half a century of his cool existence, rocks and twists like no one else in British Pop.
In terms of big venues, there could not be a better one than the Brixton Academy, the grandness and beautiful detail of the old cream theatre quelling any sense of being at a typical NME-sponsored indie gig. Excitement buzzes in the air. Then some Jarvis-written introductory words that playfully reference the legend of Pulp float across the giant see-through curtain that covers the stage, provoking impatient screams of excitement amongst the eager crowd and prolonging the moment everyone awaits. The face of Cocker, lurking behind the curtain, arouses the fans to the peak of eruption, and “Do You Remember the First Time?” comes on with the rocketing jump of an icon. Bang. History sheds its very first tears again.
Fallen into the magic of the best of Britpop, thousands of voices tune to “Razzmatazz” and “Disco 2000”, “Babies” and “Monday Morning”, tearing the songs apart with heavy jumps, elbows rocketing in the air in the heaving mosh pit. “The Fear” and “This Is Hardcore” send shivers down the spine. They’re played with the same rock and roll sex appeal of the late ‘90s. Witty and spot-on as he was back in 1995, when Pulp would make their fans wobble on the thread of sanity, Cocker thrusts his body with the same old skill, causing bursts of enthusiastic applause with every twirl of an arm, turn of the hips and fantastically awkward pirouette.
“Sorted for E’s and Wizz” is beautiful as well as moving, a visual and musical spectacle. Green beams shoot out at the crowd and arms fill the air. Cocker’s warm tones are at home amongst the whirling atmospherics. It’s a tender anthem embraced by the masses, one of the true highlights of Britpop coming to life before our eyes. “Trees” is another from the most tender recesses of Cocker’s soul. The crowd laps up its beautiful melancholy. Then the mother of all indie ballads, “Something Changed” builds up with the romance of a thousand clashing stars. Jarvis’s lyrical paean to fate and what-ifs takes the masses into its beatific and poetic heart and tears well up in the eyes of many. “When we woke up this morning we had no way of knowing, that any a matter of hours we’d change the way we were going / Where would I be now if we’d never met?” Lines and sentiments like this are what separates Cocker from the flotsam and jetsam of Britpop, your Liams and Noels who could only grasp at the lyricism that makes Cocker an outsider gem.
He introduces fellow Sheffield song-writing legend Richard Hawley on guitar for “Lipgloss” before writhing into the song, its shimmering, crescendoing chorus nothing short of epic as he punches the air. And then here it comes, from the depths of powerful whispers about a story that happened years ago, sheer insanity takes the reins and carries the whole mass into a moment that seems just unbelievable in its live experience. With “Common People”, myriad indie discos flash in front of everyone’s eyes. The wild memories of the gigs and the nights, passionate kisses, drunken collapses, lonely drinks and loud gatherings unite in four minutes of pop beauty.
In two encores, during which the audience cling tightly to every last second of the show, Pulp bring everyone back to their northern origins with the upbeat “Countdown” and the lyrical outcast beauty of “Mis-Shapes”. The crowd, gasping and beaming, go all out for the final time before We Love Life’s story of “The Wickerman” brings the final, crashing applause. If this is the last time, as Cocker says it might be, then we’ll remember it as being every bit as rich and excitable as the first. The man is ageless spindly, genius to his core.