Love! Lust! Violence! Dissent! Come one, come all to the return of Britpop heroes Pulp.
“This evening is not about ancient history, we are going to make history,” frontman Jarvis Cocker declared as the band took to the stage Friday night for the first time in almost a decade to headline Barcelona's Primavera Sound Festival.
It was nearly 2 a.m. when Cocker appeared alongside bandmates Steve Mackey, Candida Doyle, Nick Banks, Mark Webber and, most notably, guitarist/violinist Russell Senior, who marked his first show with Pulp since departing at the peak of their success in 1997. “Well, shall we?” teased scrolling letters across the stage curtain. We shall – letter by letter, the band's name lit up in an enormous neon sign cued by the kick of Banks' bass drum. And as the final “P” sparked to life, so did Pulp.
From the bass-heavy sledgehammer of “This Is Hardcore” to the prolonged suspense of “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.,” Pulp powered through a 15-song set that was equal parts hits for the festival scene and choice cuts for the hardcore fans, with a couple of classics left out to keep all in attendance hungry for next time.
“Do you mind if I take my jacket off? My tie?” purred the be-suited Cocker, glass of red wine in hand during a sort of post-coital chat with the crowd after “Pink Glove.”
Spry and sexy as ever at 47, Cocker spent the entirety of the set prowling the stage, gyrating his hips and swinging his ever-suggestive microphone in a way that gives Prince a run for his money. But for all his salaciousness, any Pulp fan knows Cocker is a romantic at heart: During “I Spy,” he pulled a man from Athens, GA to the front of the stage so he could propose to his girlfriend (she said yes, but not before planting a kiss on Cocker himself). Appropriately, the band broke into the seedy “Underwear,” with Doyle's sparkling synth and Mackey's moody bass delivering that driving vibrance so distinctive to the group's sound.
That's not to say there wasn't the odd slip-up–a fudged lyric here, a missed bar there–but they caught their errors and adjusted with the grace and ease of a group who clearly committed themselves to rigorous rehearsals in the nine months since the reunion was announced.
But what made the performance truly the return of Pulp wasn't Jarvis' shriek-inducing hips and a well-executed set list. It wasn't even Russell Senior's angular '90s 'do (though we're admittedly tempted to submit his picture to Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians).
It was definitively Pulp because Jarvis and co. came wielding an axe to grind – the one that took on social oppression and set the band a notch above their whimsical peers with 1995's seminal Different Class:
In a sobering moment, Cocker addressed the violence committed earlier that day by Spanish police on unarmed protesters in Barcelona's Plaça Catalunya.
“We don't like to comment on the business of countries that aren't our own, but what happened this morning is unacceptable. We'd like to dedicate this next song to the people of Barcelona – the Common People,” he said, nodding to a banner that read “Spanish Revolution: Sing Along With the Common People” held by protestors in the audience.
Tearing into their mega-hit, Pulp brought the crowd together for a moment of solidarity that transcended musical, cultural and political boundaries. It was a moment for anyone who's ever felt like a mis-shape, a mistake, a misfit. A moment to feel invincible, singing along arm-in-arm with strangers. And in that sense, the show wasn't just a comeback for Pulp – it was a comeback for what playing music is all about.
1. Do You Remember the First Time?
2. Pink Glove
3. Pencil Skirt
4. Something Changed
5. Disco 2000
7. Sorted For E's & Wizz
9. I Spy
11. This Is Hardcore
13. Bar Italia
14. Common People