Pulp (with Chromatics), Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY - April 10, 2012,
Apr 18, 2012
Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Web Exclusive
Britpop heroes Pulp returned to the U.S. last week for their first American shows in 14 years, starting with a show at Radio City Music Hall last Tuesday night. The British band, who went on hiatus in 2002 and reformed last year, performed at the iconic art deco venue in front of a large neon sign bearing the band's name to a mixed crowd of slightly aging Britpop fans who fell in love with the band in their '90s heyday, along with younger fans lured by the band's growing legacy. It was a triumphant return, with frontman Jarvis Cocker in fantastic form, as he gyrated across the stage like a man half his age and quoted 1920s novels in between songs.
When Pulp was headlining major summer music festivals in Britain in the mid-'90s, they were still playing to relatively small crowds in America. Their stature has grown to the point if they can close to sell out two nights at Radio City. They are certainly not the first reunited band to command a lot larger audience in their return than when they were originally together, and it's not hard to see why Cocker's sexually charged and biting commentary on the British class system and failed romances has held up better than many of the more flaccid British bands of their era. Also, thanks to the Internet, bands are more global these days and it's easier for younger fans to discover legends of a bygone era, even if Pulp were never the stars in America that they were in England.
Prior to the show fans lined up in the front lobby to purchase Pulp tea towels and mugs, along with such more standard ware as T-shirts, buttons, and posters. Popcorn was also available in the lobby, something you could see Cocker possibly lampooning (but he didn't).
Openers Chromatics took the stage to a less than one-third full Radio City. The Portland-based four-piece opened with a subdued cover of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," which opens their new album, Kill for Love. But then the bass and beats kicked in for Chromatics second, more uptempo, song, which showcased just how great the venue's sound was. Chromatics also performed "Kill for Love" and "I Want Your Love," from 2007's Night Drive. The band was hoping to perform one more song, but was told they were out of time, which made for an awkward ending to a good opening set.
Pulp got the crowd primed via a laser that projected phrases at the audience, including asking us all out for a drink after the show and posing the naughty question, "Shall we do it?" The band started on a pitch black stage, with the only things visible being a fake fireplace burning at the foot of the drums and a low light vaguely illuminating keyboardist Candida Doyle. The band began with His 'n' Hers' 1994 single "Do You Remember the First Time?"—could they have really opened with anything else? Following was nerd-anthem "Mis-Shapes" (a #2 single in the U.K. taken from 1995's Different Class) and the thought occurred that in the time since the song was written the geeks have truly inherited the Earth. The Big Bang Theory is a Top 10 TV show, The Walking Dead is breaking basic cable viewership records, Geek culture has taken over at the movie box office with a continual slew of comic book movies, video games are also blockbuster business, and the mis-shapes are founding multi-billion dollar computer and social media companies.
Cocker pointed out the exact date and venue of Pulp's last New York City show, some 14 years earlier, and seemed visibly touched that their return was at the venue that opened in 1932. "It made me want to cry a bit," the 48-year-old singer said about walking around Radio City Music Hall before the show. "It's strange for us to bring our secondhand, shoddy form of glamour back here, where it all began, the people's palace." Cocker excelled at between-song banter and activity. He threw out chocolates to the audience, even trying to reach the balcony with a throw that didn't quite make it. ("You can't sue me if you get a black eye," he joked.) He said he was fascinated by important historical facts from each date and pointed out that F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was published on this date in 1925. "One of the best books ever written," Cocker remarked before quoting a passage from it.
The setlist was heavily culled from the Mercury Prize-winning Different Class, Pulp's biggest and most acclaimed album. In fact, every song from that album bar "Monday Morning" was performed (which they reportedly played the second night). For "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E" a modern dance troupe, all clad in black, slowly took the stage in unison, at first emerging from the side balcony boxes. For "I Spy" Cocker pointed a night vision camera at audience members, whose images were shown on the screens behind the band. A smattering of songs were also taken from the albums Intro (1993), His 'n' Hers (1994), This Is Hardcore (1998), and We Love Life (2001), but Different Class dominated. It's their undisputed classic, so there were likely few complaints from the audience, but His 'n' Hers is a close second and it would've been nice to hear more than two songs from it, as well as more than one song from their underrated, Scott Walker-produced final album, We Love Life (especially as they never toured that album in America).
Cocker hinted at the inspiration behind "Babies" (found on both Intro and His 'n' Hers), in which the protagonist hides in the wardrobe of the sister of the girl he fancies and ends up sleeping with the sister when he's discovered by her. "That's the good thing about writing songs," Cocker explained, "it doesn't have to be all true. It can only be 5% true or 25% true and only I know that. Like a good magician, I don't reveal my tricks."
Like a great frontman, for highlight "This Is Hardcore" Cocker climbed up the side of the venue via the boxes and to the first mezzanine balcony, mock stripping (removing his jacket and tie) to the band's erotic masterpiece. Then he air-humped the stage while singing the repeated refrain "And that goes in there." It was appropriately sleazy and the crowd swallowed it whole.
The main set concluded with the anthemic "Sunrise" (an uncharacteristically uplifting Pulp song, from We Love Life), Different Class' late night closing track "Bar Italia," and the class conscious "Common People," their most famous song and one that sparked yet another audience sing-a-long. They should've saved "Common People" for the very final song, as the encore choices weren't quite as inspired. The encore consisted of "Like a Friend," "Live Bed Show," and "Party Hard." None are considered the band's biggest songs, nor are any rare fan favorites. And on the second night they reportedly encored with "Like a Friend" and We Love Life's "Bad Cover Version," and then wisely saved "Mis-Shapes" for the final song. This is Hardcore's "Party Hard" always struck as a less evolved cousin to "Disco 2000," which the band performed earlier in the set, but maybe should've saved for the encore. Cocker said that "Party Hard" was a song they "haven't played for a long time" and it showed a bit. He used a megaphone for the chorus, but it seemed to malfunction towards the end of the song and so the singer kicked it off the stage.
It may have been an inauspicious closing, but no matter, all-in-all Pulp's return to America was a highly successful one, a comeback that continued with a much talked about set at Coachella later that week. Most frontmen half Cocker's age could learn a lot from him about how to command a stage and talk to an audience, and the rest of the band were also on fine form. "It's been a very special night for us," Cocker concluded, no doubt echoing the same feeling of all the mis-shapes in the audience. Let's hope we don't have to wait another decade and a half for them to return to our shores and that perhaps a new Pulp album might soon be on the horizon.
"Do You Remember the First Time?"
"Sorted for E's & Wizz"
"This Is Hardcore"
"Like a Friend"
"Live Bed Show"