Pulp - Joyful & Triumphant
Most bands, when they break up, do so in a welter of recrimination. They might play law-suit tennis for a time afterwards, like moneyed divorcées. Or they limp along, minus a few members, drawing on the strength of session musicians like ticks on bare ankles. Few just fade away with dignity. Fewer still throw a cutting-edge goodbye party in a giant former steelworks outside their home town and invite dozens of other bands, DJs, visual artists and a few thousand revellers along and call it a festival. But then, Pulp are not - were not - an ordinary band.
The verb tense is tricky: Pulp haven't spelled out their end in neon lettering. True, they are without a record deal; their relationship with Universal Island ended with the greatest hits compilation of last month, which creaked into the charts at a dismal 71. And Jarvis Cocker, their totemic singer, doesn't quite say goodbye. 'This'll be the last time you see us for a while,' he announces gruffly. 'But we may meet again, who knows?' He leaves it open, half like a contrite, caddish lover, unable to say the words, half like a man who's merely moving to Paris to be with his new stylist wife. Cocker has always looked a bit like a French filmmaker from the Sixties - it'll be a novelty for him to fit in.
The truth is that the band are still unsure. But Pulp's last chart position did have a clang of finality about it. For a while, Pulp have seemed like a band in the evening of their day. The signs? The diminishing returns of their singles, for one - even though later songs like 'Trees' or 'The Last Day of the Miners' Strike' are among their best. Their extramural activities, for another - Cocker and bassist Steve Mackey started their own, terribly hip, club night, Desperate, last year; Jarvis also performed a few distinctly un-Pulp-like songs supporting a hero of his, Lee Hazlewood, last September. Then there was keyboard player Candida Doyle's departure to live in a shed in Maine.
Being clever people, Pulp read their own signs. They saw the slope leading downwards from the giddy heights of chart acclaim and Glastonbury headline slots and tabloid interest. And they rode it stylishly to a finish.
What a finish, too. Cocker and Mackey's club experience and wide tastes have dictated that Auto is a carnival of esoteric sound (like laptop troubadour Four Tet), chic disco (like Royksopp and Lemon Jelly) and dirty rock'n'roll (like raucous new duo the Kills). Its spiritual antecedents are Spain's excellent Sonar festival of electronica and our own All Tomorrow's Parties (née Bowlie); by delicious contrast, Oasis are on across town: everything that Pulp are not and are proud of not being. Auto, furthermore, suggests that Pulp wish to be remembered not as a cult band who triumphed in the major leagues against the odds, or for Jarvis's subversion of Michael Jackson on live TV, but for their ineffable coolness.
The Magna Centre lurks just outside Sheffield; awe-inspiring enough in its naked state, it is transformed by video screens and (ineffectual) heat lamps and pumping sound systems into a glacial, dystopian resonating chamber. If anything, Pulp are incongruous here. The severity of the décor and the electronicness of the acts only serves to throw their unfailingly melodic, keyboard-enhanced guitar pop into relief. They begin their mid-evening set in time-honoured tradition, with 'Do You Remember the First Time' - all the more poignant as this is, probably, the last time. 'Happy Endings', one of the rarities of the night, feels as if it too has been chosen for an obvious reason. For the most part, though, the Pulp classics tumble out compulsively, like end-of-affair confessions: 'Lipgloss', 'Something Changed' and the epoch-defining 'Sorted For Es And Wizz', all greeted by a victorious home-crowd atmosphere.
If they secretly hate each other's guts, Pulp don't show it, although relative newcomer Richard Hawley's ascendancy on lead guitar (at the expense of Mark Webber) could be read as significant. Jarvis doesn't have the air of a man tired of the stage, either: he's up on the monitors, cuffs flapping, elbows jutting, shirt untucked, vogueing and cutting loose as the music demands it.
His wit will be missed. A heckler shouts: 'Jarvis, I love you!' Jarvis deadpans: 'That's worrying.' Later, he throws peanuts and snack food at the crowd, after a disarming preamble about dinner parties, crudités ('or crudities') and nut allergies. 'This is Hardcore' gets a lengthy introduction ('We're going to dig a hole now'), Cocker alluding to how the album of the same name in effect ended their career as a clever, good-time band and began their tenure as a wiser, bad-time band. 'This is Hardcore' itself is tremendous: mantric and heavy and wreathed in bad vibes. It proves that, at their worst on paper, Pulp were also at their perceptive, ambitious best.
The encore could only be 'Babies', the tune that captured the essence of Pulp's anthems of longing and shame, and 'Common People', a song so perfect - artistically, melodically, sociologically - that it should be handed out to every middle- class young person in Britain, along with the vote, when they come of age. Pulp play the minor-key acid disco version tonight and omit 'Disco 2000', another important hit from their zenith.
If any of Pulp's faithful are disgruntled, it's disguised by the whoops and hugging and cries of 'More!' as the band wander off in a clang of dissonance. As possible exits go, it is an extraordinary one.
01 Do You Remember The First Time
03 Bad Cover Version
04 Something Changed
05 Sorted For E's And Whizz
08 This Is Hardcore
09 I Love Life
12 Common People
|SOURCE||DAB||SOUND QUALITY||A+||FORMAT||Mp3||BITRATE||256||TRACKS #||12|
|LOCATION / VENUE||Rotherham||Auto Festival - Magna Centre||DATE||2002/12/14|