live at Primavera
There is a lot of talk about retromania, music journalist Simon Reynolds has just written a book about it and there is lots of chin stroking about pop going backwards with big bands reforming to play the hits as part of the process.
Conscious of this Jarvis announces, ‘this evening is not about ancient history, we are going to make history’ as the band come on stage. He knows that the Pulp comeback could be an exercise in the aforementioned retro-mania but has the smarts to realise that the Pulp project has to move forwards to survive – to keep its place as more than just a pop band dusting down the cherished memories.
At the moment those hits suffice and the response here in Spain is ecstatic. Pulp easily could become another greatest hits project playing round the UK and parts of Europe. They could more than survive doing the festival circuit for years but their artful background means that they must be thinking there has to be something else left for them. Could they just pull off another big record? Are they the band that every ten years pulls something out of the bag?
Afterall they have had the weirdest history of any band in the UK.
For those of us old enough to remember this whole Pulp thing is quite weird.
For years, in the eighties, they were the charming and loveable bunch of Sheffield misfits who just kept going despite the fact that no-one took any damn notice of them. If they supported you at a gig (like they did with the my band, Membranes) they would be guaranteed to bring nobody in with them.
That seemed odd then because they always wrote great pop songs- catchy, tough slices of sardonic post punk which wasn’t a million miles away from where they ended up. Maybe at the time they were too art school or no-one had taken enough drugs to understand what they were doing. Pop in the eighties was at a real low point, perhaps because of the state of radio one, and a pure pop band like Pulp were cast as outsiders- their eventual victory is one of the great moments in UK pop- proof that the good stuff sometimes does get to the top and also proof that the short mindedness of the mainstream media is always in danger of suffocating great talent (it’s still doing it right now).
When Madchester broke Pulp were all over the place with Jarvis relocating to art school in London. In hindsight it was at this point that they suddenly turned the corner. They were now connected and not marooned in Sheffield and as Madchester morphed into Britpop Pulp had this demo of new songs that was creating a mini buzz in the right circles.
I remember hearing it in A and R man Jon Bryce’s car. He was one of the first people to have the demo and was very excited about it. The songs they had now sounded considered and perfect for the time, their artful Englishness was now perfect for the era and they took off right in the middle of the Blur v Oasis battle perfectly placed as the band that nobody took any sides over.
The band hit the top and became one of the key bands of the period. They were artful social commentators with a wicked wit and, in Jarvis, a loveable rogue of a frontman who slotted easily into the space recently vacated by Morrissey- the northern wit who told it like it was but with a charm and intelligence. For a brief period of time the band were huge before falling away with the follow up album and splitting up.
Jarvis has since become a media icon with a great 6music show and a couple of cult solo albums, one which was recoded by Steve Albini and sounds great- neither set the charts the alight and earlier this year they announced they had reformed and here we are at Primavera at the first of their big festival appearances.
Headlining on the Friday there are a good 15/20 000 people packing the arena loving the band’s selection of hits interposed with album tracks. They sound big and bold- with those golden hooks still intact. It’s a perfect execution of heritage pop, the big comeback propped up by the anthemic songs of yore. All bands go through it, bag the hits and then comeback a few years later when the songs have soaked into the mainstream.
The set is a thorough examination of the Pulp back catalogue, their back pages exposed with ‘Do You Remember The First Time’, ‘Pink Glove’, ‘Pencil Skirt’, ‘Something Changed’, ‘Disco 2000′, ”ËBabies’, ‘Sorted For Es And Wizz’, ‘Feeling Called Love’, ‘I Spy’, ‘Underwear’, ‘This Is Hardcore’, ‘Sunrise’, ‘Bar Italia’, ‘Common People’, ‘Razzmatazz’.
The bearded Jarvis still resembles a geography teacher searching for an exit from the 1970’s still has the angular geek moves and the audience hooking charm to make this work and the band sound magnificent-an avalanche of brassy, bold ,very English pop that makes their first gig since 2002 such a triumph. Each song is a crystal clear and surprisingly powerful rush of Pulp pop. You can still hear their punk roots in their playing- not the fuzzed guitar edge of the punk assault but that driving intensity that was the hallmark of bands like the Stranglers who were Jarvis’s first gig back in the seventies.
Jarvis does the charm thing, sipping wine, chatting tot eh audience and even officiating a proposal, the audience who seem to be nearly all Brits taking full advantage of being at a festival that’s not a freezing cold mudbath lap it all up. The hits cause audience meltdown whilst the less famous tracks like ‘Sorted For E’s and Whizz’ keep the bars busy but it’s the climactic ‘Common people’ that send the crowd into raptures. One of the mist anthemic songs of that decade it still resonates and its dedication to to the unarmed protesters who were beaten and shot at with rubber bullets in Barcelona’s PlaÃÂ§a de CataluÃÂ±a last week is a perfect moment. the song is a an avalanche of epic pop power and and still has the emotional clout to ring true after all this time.
The Challenge now is to see if they can make more of this – they are one of those bands who could easily write a new album that relates to where we are at now. A grown up Pulp is not a terrifying proposition- it actually makes sense.