words by: William Alberque and Svetlana
This past week, PULP came back together AFTER 14 YEARS of not being together and played their first shows in the US in forever. To say that we are fans is an understatement. So-you get 2 for 1 reviews here.
William: I’m not a fan of nostalgia as a category of entertainment. The mere mention of another band reforming leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And yet, here I am, at the age when the bands that are reforming are those that gave me so much pleasure in my 20s, dancing in London, in Manchester, in Paris, in Moscow, in Reykjavík, in Berlin. It was an international underground of the love of indie dance music – Britpop gone global.
Svetlana: I am a pretty big fan of nostalgia in the category of entertainment. I grew up in a place where we didn’t get any international shows during my formative years (on account of closed borders, wars and the like) so I’ve spent the better part of the 2000s being teenage-level excited at the prospect of seeing bands I always wanted to see live LIVE. And Pulp has always been on top of that list. ALWAYS. They just sort of took their sweet time.
William: I remember going to Living Room at Red and dancing to “Mis-Shapes” and making the friendships that would dominate my time in DC. I remember walking up the stairs in a desolate building in Moscow and hearing Jarvis’s voice (Set the Controls to the Heart of the Pelvis) and knowing that in spite of the strangeness of my surroundings, I was going to be just fine. I remember striking up a conversation with the bartender at Sirkus in Reykjavík about the Pulp white label (Sunrise remixes) I’d purchased earlier in the trip during a raid of London record stores (Berwick Street; oh, such memories), and then being asked to DJ that night. And then killed some time beforehand around the corner in Damon Albarn’s bar. It was that kind of time.
Svetlana: William has obviously lived a much more story-filled life than me, but as long as we’re sharing memories: I remember being 14, and having read a review of “Different Class” in a 2 month old issue of Mojo that had just landed in Serbia and KNOWING I had to own this record. The way they described the heavy breathing in I SPY, the humor of PENCIL SKIRT, the coulda-woulda-shoulda vibe of DISCO 2000-every single song sounded like a song I always wanted to hear but never did. On account of living someplace where you couldn’t JUST BUY music, I went to our little music black market and bought a fully pirated, no-booklet/just-a-cover-photocopy CD of it and proceeded to listen to it till my ears bled. For the next 7 years, until I landed in the US and EVERYONE there was already sick of every song on that record, if you liked to dance to DISCO 2000, we were instant friends. You liking PULP was all I needed for me to like you in my teens. And I NEVER got to see them live. EVER. Until now.
William: So; Radio City Music Hall. Why me? Why you? Why here? Why now? Word of the Pulp reunion and triumphant sets at the big festivals last year set my mouth watering. But…no new music, no new songs. Just nostalgia. Would they play the United States? Would it be worth it? So what do I do? What could I do; I swallowed my pride, bought my tickets, and got on the train.
Svetlana: I literally have heart palpitations as I enter. I never even would have bought a ticket for fear of disappointment, I guess, but luckily I have friends that know me better than I know myself AND as we walk up to the bright, shiny lights saying PULP, I only have one worry in my mind: I hope they deliver. This is the feeling equivalent of getting to make out with someone you had a crush on for a decade and a half and fearing they’ll just sloppily lick your face instead (and not in a good way.)
William: I walk into the lobby as they go on, and the white heat of “Do You Remember” has already whipped the crowd into a delighted frenzy. The gilt age beauty of the venue with its soaring lobby, gold everywhere, opulence, decadence, all seemingly quite fitting. I do remember the first time. And it felt this good.
The stage set is brilliant – a giant electronic board broken into smaller squares with the classic neon Pulp letters, looking slightly distressed. Jarvis is…amazing. A few weeks back I remarked that Noel Gallagher should do stand up. Jarvis should have his own talk show. He’s a mesmerizing presence on stage – a dervish of energy, pausing between songs to tell brilliant stories, jokes, non-sequitors. Of course it’s “Monday Morning” next. Slows us down a bit before, well, you know how it goes:
Stomach in, chest out, on your marks, get set, go!
Svetlana: From the start-it is perfection. Even the pre-stage banter courtesy of glowing lights is amazing. Yes it it s a huge venue, yes it is a seated show, but within the first chords EVERYONE IS UP, EVERYONE IS FRIENDS, EVERYONE IS HAPPY. Jarvis dances the way an awkward but enthusiastic art school kid dances and it is simultaneously hilarious and a performance and weirdly, undeniably h.o.t. in it’s self-knowing unhotness. It is also the kind of dancing that makes you feel like ANY WHICH WAY YOU DANCE IS OK TO DANCE.
William: And then, just to twist the knife on me, personally, “Razzmatazz.” Even in a sold out venue as lovely and massive as Radio City, I feel like Jarvis is talking to me, directly, personally – the songs are confessionals, snapshots of life with no Instagram to filter the harsh lights; and now, added in, the grey hair, the bald spots, the belly, everything else that there’s no filter to fix.
“Pencil Skirt” is next; clearly the band have worked on the setlist – heavy on the Different Class, perfectly designed to thrill and then calm and give everyone a nice breather in between the sprints. It’s not the original lineup, though, is it? There’s Candida, but who’s that on violin? Ah, I’m having too much fun to be bothered. “I’ve kissed your mother twice and now I’m working on your dad.”
“Something Changed” shimmies and danced next, with “Disco 2000” storming out next. You know you’re going to get everything you want, everything you deserve. More than you deserve. Tonight is kind of special. I almost regret it and wish they’d stick their fingers up at the audience and play the entirety of We Love Life, with the pauses. Instead, it’s “Sorted For E’s & Wizz” next with the festival lasers making the points of the song literally.
Svetlana: I don’t want to ever leave. That’s kind of how I feel as PENCIL SKIRT comes on. For “I Spy”, Jarvis turns his spy mike onto the audience and you can SMELL everyone whose face appears on the big screen having a pop-music-orgasm right now. Hearing SOMETHING CHANGED followed by DISCO 2000 is my favorite part of the early set. Everyone is pitch perfect, the graphics are exactly what you want them to be, and Jarvis is running up and down the sides of Radio City, his shirt drenched in sweat, his hair a wet seaweed mess and after every songs I turn to people standing next to me and say: I hope he makes it to the next one. But-there was no reason to worry: they’re here to deliver and they’re delivering.
William: Oh is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel?
The literal nature of the set continues, with Jarvis talking, telling the story, while dancers coming out to walk and stand dramatically at all the key parts in “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” Jarvis stands on the speakers and comes down to tank them, calls them the Pulpettes, and it’s on to “I Spy.” Of course, we need, we’re craving, we’re calling out for something dramatic. So, “Babies,” then? But first we get a story, with Jarvis playing the start of “Louie Louie,” and reminding us that today was the birthday of Richard Berry, whose genius enriched the world with three simple chords. That’s fine, this one’s only got two. “Babies,” it is. Stills from the video decorate the backdrop and Jarvis weaves his magic.
More wonderful chat follow – Kurt Vonnegut, died on April 11 – and he introduces the next song: “this is about changing your mind at the last second,” pausing deliciously before deadpanning, ”when you don’t have any clothes on.” “Underwear,” then, followed by the gorgeous sleaze of “This is Hardcore” with Jarvis climbing into the balcony to sing, the spotlight following him, all humps and groans. The euphoric beauty of “Sunrise” is next, all spoken word to begin before it blooms into life
Svetlana: What William said-there’s not much to add.
William: Then the cold light of “Bar Italia” at 5 am (we’ve all been there, a firm place to sit in the window when you’ve had one too many at the Blue Posts and you’ve been tossed from Groucho and it’s too early for the record shops) follows before Jarvis thanks us, mentions the last time Pulp played NYC, they were at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and proceeds to describe the next song. Out of Bar Italia, turn right, over to Charing Cross Road, you pass Saint Martin’s college. “And if you don’t already know what the next song is, what are you doing here?” The audience already losing their collective mind – they all know what’s coming – and then it’s the opening robot voice from the Vocoda Mix (don’t tell me you don’t like the Motiv 8 mix. You’re wrong.). Hands in the air, massive outbreaks of bad dancing; it’s perfect.
Svetlana: The best part of the introductions to the songs is seeing the audience lose their minds as they figure out WHICH SONG IS COMING NEXT. As that “Out of Bar Italia, turn right, over to Charing Cross Road, you pass Saint Martin’s college. ” sentence happens, the whole of Radio City music hall is literally holding hands in anticipation of the chorus that launched a thousand dance parties. And everyone sings along. EVERYONE. And no one leaves as they leave. Sure you can run out and grab a drink but what if you not clapping results in them NOT coming back? THEY HAVE TO COME BACK. And-of course, they do.
William: The break is brief, but entirely necessary. Lovely surprise – we get a run-out of “Like a Friend,” which, along with so many other soundtrack and compilation bits, gets ignored by so many fans who lack the application to find all the wonderful secret songs (“La Roi des Fourmis” is the best example). And then the added pleasure of “Bad Cover Version,” which I can never hear without picturing the priceless video.
William: Jarvis’ intro is hilarious and appropriate (“it’s about when you see someone, and then you break up with them, and then you see them with someone else, and they’re happy, and you get upset because they’re supposed to be unhappy”) and the song remains a piece of beautiful, bitter, self-important high comedy. We get a final story, about how Jarvis DJ’d in NYC with Steve Mackey at a night for misfits. Naturally, we get “Mis-Shapes” to end the night. Just put your hands up.
Svetlana: The encore is good and hearing “Like a Friend” always feels like a vacation to me and “Mis-Shapes” is a great way to close out but I, just like all the super-nerds in the audience, sort of want to hear more: where is PARTY HARD or wouldn’t HELP THE AGED be a TERRIFIC and HILARIOUS closer? If we get “Like a Friend”, why can’t we also get “Ladies Man”. Or the, in my opinion, always underrated “Trees”? But I guess being VERY CLOSE TO ABSOLUTELY PERFECT is good enough. This is just nitpicking. I just sat/stood/danced through 2+ hours of what I can now officially call the best concert going experience of my life. With this show and Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress” FINALLY opening this weekend, my 17 year old self is having the time of her life. So I won’t spoil it by complaining.
William: Yeah, it was sad hearing such talented musicians just playing a nostalgia set; but no, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The song selection was fantastic, the performance was stellar, the energy levels were breathtaking. It was perfect. One of the best days ever. I will remember this, even if it’s the last time.
Svetlana: also, filing this under goals: talking to IMP and somehow bullying them into booking PULP for 85 shows in a row at Warner or something. DC deserves this night too.