(Planet Me)
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
PULP - London Royal Albert Hall - 31st March 2012

“Your Ladbroke Grove loooks turn me on. I can't help it. I was dragged up this way."

A year into the 'reformation', and Pulp continue to be Pulpish. Easy, it is, to mock and frame a band – any band – by the cliches ; the exaggerated gestures, the quiff, the sunglasses, or the jacket and 60's Michael Caine glasses ripped from the celluloid of The Ipcress File. We all become caricatures of ourselves, wether we mean to or not. But what if that caricature is who you actually are? You cannot lie and pretend for that long. And why would you?

Opening the second breath of this set of reunion shows with a one-off for charidee at the Albert Hall, Pulp, whomever they are today, perhaps, need this night more than they know. To sing those songs, of revenge and exclusion, inside the confines of the most prestigious, classic, and traditional venue in the country is a validation of the bands ethos : not that they needed to be told that they were right. Perhaps this is the final bite of the band, the final step into some kind of acceptance, as Pulp become not just co-opted into the popular language, but veer into the realm of the established, the accepted, the commodification of their beliefs, so that whatever you believe is iconised, packaged, sold as an image for you to display. You don't get to be outsiders when you headline festivals and parks and arenas. Or hear the words "Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be Pulp. "


“Can't you see a giant walks through your petty lives?”

But is it not the same for everyone? And perhaps, if one tries to sell a thorn, it grates against the smooth edges of the glossy pages of your Sunday papers that tell you that everything is alright :and if it isn't, it's the fault of someone different, someone weird. It's the thorns fault for corrupting your idea of beauty. And Pulp, as they famously declared on sleevenotes that were manifestos : we just want the right to be different. To be ourselves. To chose our own path. Inevitably, we all fall into a form of compromise by virtue of age and responsibility and children, but at least let the compromise be in part on our own terms.

And thus, as Pulp return to the stage for the first time in half a year, and this time, without Russell Senior.... does it feel different? Not at all.

Oh, we've seen many dreams ruined by reformations and reclaimations that are cynical cash-grabs. So many bands reduced in stature, and expanded in their riches. That's right : Pixies.

But not Pulp. as good as ever.


Perhaps, no, definitely. This country needs this band more than ever. “Common People” is as powerful as it has ever sounded. A new national anthem. Despite the cost of the tickets (the cheap seats start at £35, the most expensive a preposterous £85), Pulp as a band that, now, are the voice of a conscience that some want to obscure. In a civilisation that fetishises profit and persecution above all other things, Pulp are – to me – at least, a band that defended the rights of the poor, the excluded, in tower blocks and cleaning toilets. This – the drama of the kitchen and the bedroom and the agony of the ectasy – is how we live.

“And every night I hone my plan. How I will get my satisfaction. How I will blow your paradise away.” We, are People too.


Whilst parts of the set are known quantities, the opener of “Do You Remember The First Time?” is no great surprise, and the set closing twenty minutes is the successful thrill of “This Is Hardcore”, “Sunrise”, “Bar Italia”, and “Common People”, the evening eschews the rote, the predictable in the world in favour of ebbs and flows, with a rousing, roof raising climax. I can count three people not dancing amongst the 5,118 at the end of the night. Three.

They think they've got us beat : but revenge is going to be so sweet.” Jarvis sings on Mis-Shapes. The Albert Hall puts its hands up, it's the rage. What a view.

And it is no rote repetition of the previous set of shows. “Like A Friend”, obscure soundtrack contribution from the late Nineties, is given its first airing live – presumably ever. “Bad Cover Version” cuts as sharp as it ever did, being the final Pulp single : so beautifully human and perfect. Who else could make their final single an elegy to the fact that whatever comes next is not as bright and beautiful as it used to be?

Certainly there's a nostalgia, with every song being a decade old, and also, a nostalgia in the music for the time when the future was a promise and not a threat, where the retro-futurism of “Metropolis” was what could be, and not what we never had to lose. Next to me, the Labour Mayor Of Corby – youngest Labour Mayor and youngest female Mayor in British history - dances and sings. (Hello!). We, who grew up on these songs, are trapped on a planet where cunts are still running the world. But – we, who grew up on these songs, we are now mothers and fathers, we are the people who mould young minds, the people who run your cities.


“You should take me very seriously indeed... “

Rarely is music so meaningful, or so direct to the thoughts. Whilst we've changed now, we're fully grown, with babies, and jobs, and the fear of monday mornings, we are still the same. Common as people.

Oh, I can tell you what they played, how they played, what they sang, what Jarvis said between songs : but unless you know these songs, I cannot tell you how they feel now, the relevance they have to our lives now, the tinge of disappointment that comes with knowing that the world hasn't changed enough since these songs were written in Conservative Britain of the Nineties.... now that we're in some kind of supercharged, rebooted version of Conservative Britain of twenty/thirty years after.


The Albert Hall twinkles like a star to the live string section opening “This Is Hardcore” : Jarvis flat on his back, legs bent as the ballerina on the screen. Candida effortlessly playing the ominous, childlike piano motifs.

“My favourite parks are car parks. Grass is something you smoke. Birds are something you shag. Take your Year In Provence, and shove it up your ass.”

But perhaps the moment of the night – THE defining moment for me of Pulp's return to the stage – is “I Spy”.

The finest song of their imperial phase, the deft tale of revenge and devious victory was, for me, their best song. And here it is : in the heart of the British establishment. How perfect. Jarvis stalks the stage and tells us about his tales of derring do, drinking your brandy, messing up the bed you chose together, recounting an affair with the bored and rich housewives of the gated community, taking a quiet, vicious revenge on the rich : and doing it here. Perhaps its that the Albert Hall is the nearest thing to a Palace popular culture has. Here, the rich tinkle their jewelery, and drape themselves in finery, and toast the glorious Queen, and cling to a world of gross inequality, of blind, feral nationalism, and of vile privilege. The grace and favour seats in the corporate boxes are sometimes full, and sometimes empty. Not that that matters. The people who matter : we are here in the standing section and sat in the gods near the chandeliers.


“I Spy for a living. I specialise in revenge. I'm taking the things that I know will cause you pain.”

And here, mock-heroic narrating the tale, Jarvis tells us how he took one of those women, the vile footballers trophies, the Wives and Girlfriends, and how he did the act of justified infidelity : how he spoilt the dream, defiled the bed, tasted the pleasures of a rich man, and here – in YOUR Palace of respectability. These weren't just your dreams, but ours too : of security, of comfort, of homes, of lives, of the things you won't allow us. Of not having to fight from the beginning of the month to the end, of knowing that if you fell – you always had a place to land.

The main set climaxes with the rousing “Common People.” The song we came here for. The song that perhaps, changed an election result and made a difference. A song that explains, in one line, the entire of the class struggle with a sharp contempt and piercing accuracy.

“You'll never know what its like to live your life with no meaning or control.”

And if that is true, then you shouldn't be messing with other people's lives.


By 10.30pm, and Pulp exhume – and this is the word - “My Lighthouse”. For the first time in near on 30 years, they perform this song, with Jarvis' sister Saskia on vocals. It's not the best song ever written, but it is important. With this, the Albert Hall is perhaps, given to the realisation that this is more than just an ordinary Saturday night. More than an 'ordinary' gig. And then it's “Babies”. And finally, the heartstrings and dancefloor romance just before the end of the night that is the ever perfect “Disco 2000”;

“It's not a case of Woman Vs. Man. It's more a case of Haves against the Have Nots.”

Pulp, triumphant, and more relevant than ever. What did you do in the great class wars of 2012?


Wow. I can hear the songs and it nearly feels as if I've been there.
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