The Fox Theatre
Better than…watching cell phone videos from Pulp's New York and San Francisco shows.
Jarvis Cocker, the charismatic frontman of British pop band Pulp, talks a lot in between songs. At their show between Coachella performances last night at Pomona's Fox Theater, there were few segues that didn't feature his banter. Cocker introduced songs, not always by name but always with information. We got tidbits of the band's history, like the fact that they've only played Los Angeles twice, in 1994 and 1996. Then there were the asides that may have seemed random, but weren't.
Early on in the band's roughly two-hour set, Cocker ran down a list of events that occurred on April 19 in years past. He was stuck on this date in 1943, called Bicycle Day, when scientist Albert Hofmann dosed himself with LSD as an experiment. Cocker noted that it has been about 70 years since “the start of the psychedelic experience.” This wasn't just a bit of trivia. It was the lead-in banter for “Sorted for E's and Wizz,” Pulp's tale of a young raver in 1990s U.K., armed with ecstasy (E's) and speed (wizz).
The crowd was sprayed with green lights that looked like thousands of tiny laser pointers directed at us, as the band's name glowed in neon colored letters behind the stage. Lest you think otherwise, though, “Sorted for E's and Wizz” isn't a pro-drug song, nor is it a nostalgic one. It's filled with isolation and a desperate longing for human contact. Like so many of Pulp's songs, it's pretty depressing, but you wouldn't know that if you were seeing the band live.
Anticipation was heavy inside the Fox Theater. After all, more than 15 years have passed since the band played Los Angeles, and Pomona was as close as they were going to get. The crowd was heavy on L.A. Britpop scene veterans, people who spent the late 1990s dancing to hits like opener, “Do You Remember the First Time?” and main set closer “Common People.” Meanwhile, Cocker relishes in giving the crowd a performance. He pointed the mic at audience members, asking them about their fears, for “His 'n' Hers.” He perched on a speaker, swathed in red lights, and slipped off his blazer for “This Is Hardcore.”
When there's this much excitement, when you're following the lead of a man who is clearly basking in every glorious moment of being on stage, it's easy to overlook the darkness in Pulp songs. You'll cheer and dance with your friends to “Common People,” just as you did at the club so many years ago. Maybe the weight of class struggle will hit you and take away your smile for a second. Maybe it won't. Inside the concert setting, you can fall for the deceptively sexy “His 'n' Hers”, with its line, “I want to wipe you down and lick the smile off your face.” It's only after the song that Cocker says this lesser-known tune is about “fear of domesticity.”
Thursday night's show, like much of their mini-tour, was an event for the hardcore Pulp fans. The band is playing today at Coachella, just as they did last Friday. They also stopped by New York and San Francisco, shows that, like the Pomona date, sold out very quickly.
Pulp's set list relied heavily on their landmark album Different Class. They played eight of the twelve album tracks last night. There were a handful of selections from His 'n' Hers and This Is Hardcore. They also included “Like a Friend,” from the Great Expectations soundtrack, which got a second life last year after it was featured in Adult Swim's cartoon series, The Venture Bros.
But, this concert wasn't all about the hits. They threw in “His 'n' Hers” (from the Sisters E.P., not the album of the same name) as well as “Mile End” from the Trainspotting soundtrack. The highlight, though, came during the second encore with the rarity “Back in L.A.” Cocker explained that they haven't played this song since 1984 and they may never play it again. He then apologized for the “cliches” in the song, explaining that it was written a decade before the band had actually visited the city.
Undoubtedly, this was a magical night for those of us who have been waiting years to see Pulp live, as well as the few who were at the '94 and '96 shows.
Personal bias: I'm a Pulp fan who missed both of the band's L.A. concerts. I went in hoping this would be a pretty amazing night, and it far exceeded my expectations.
The crowd: A lot of people who used to hang out at the Britpop and goth clubs in the late 1990s. I could barely turn my head without running into club pals from that time period.
Random notebook dump: Often, it was pretty hard to hear Jarvis talk over the screams. Sorry if I contributed to that.