Pulp at St. Anne’s Park, Dublin – June 9th 2023
45 years into a compelling career, Pulp have, according to the big screens in St. Anne’s Park, played just 525 shows, or near enough one a month. That’s a remarkably small number for a band that’s become so culturally ubiquitous, and makes this latest return feel all the more special.
In the best possible sense, Jarvis Cocker sits somewhere between poet and figure of fun. After a series of written messages on the screens introducing a tour dubbed ‘This Is What We Do For An Encore’ – a name that seems to suggest the band might be edging towards a farewell – Cocker opens the set with ‘I Spy’, in the process stepping slowly down a staircase from the back of the stage, each step lighting orange as he moves.
And make no mistake, as the games how style entry suggests, this is unquestionably the Jarvis Cocker show. The rest of his supremely talented band provide a superb backdrop, of course, but they also somewhat fade in comparison, a somewhat static collection of musicians including a small orchestra of violins that’s passive approach to performing live is in almost pointed contrast to the frontman’s manic energy, shape-pulling and almost mime-like engagement with the crowd.
By second track ‘Disco 2000’ St. Anne’s is in the palm of his carefully-posed hands, and the early dropping of a hit kicks things off nicely. The setlist, more broadly, is near enough the one many long-time fans might pick, not least because it contains most of classic album ‘Different Class’.
During a fun-loving ‘Mis-Shapes’ Cocker pauses to grab sweets from his pocket and launch them into the crowd (he’s thrown a chocolate bar in return), before an emotional ‘Something Changed’ is dedicated to bassist Steve Mackey, who died earlier this year. That leads into a fuzzier section and a rare outing for ‘Razzmatazz’.
It’s surprising how much Pulp’s sound punches, with the more conventional guitar/ bass/ drum set up lifted only subtly by the prevalence of violins on stage, and Cocker’s sing-along vocals very much at the fore, occasionally accentuated by the frontman banging on a massive bass drum at the back of the stage.
The set’s main detour from classic Pulp comes in a slightly spaced out nod to the band’s 80s and 90s rave-loving side, delivered complete with swirling big screens in the slightly spaced-out ‘Weeds’ (which Cocker comically dedicates to the park’s red squirrels) and ‘Weeds II’, before ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G C.A.L.L.E.D L.O.V.E’ gives way to superbly boisterous festi-anthem ‘Sorted for E’s and Whizz’.
By this point, the gig is absolutely flying by, and opening line “Is this the way the future’s really meant to feel, just 20,000 people standing in a field” gets a particularly vocal sing-along.
At various stages, Cocker is to be found lying on stage, or sat at the top of the on-stage staircase in an armchair drinking a shot, or leaping from the stage-front speakers pulling the shapes that have become such a notable part of his live showing.
The playfully pervy side of the band gets its moment with Cocker’s ode to his first sexual experience, which he tells us happened in a Sheffield park. ‘Do You Remember The First Time’ is yet another anthemic sing along, a vibe that grows again with a witty ‘Babies’, one of the great anthems to confused teenage sexuality.
With the ecstatic reaction down the front in full progress, the band briefly step back behind their massive velvet curtain between a beautifully timed ‘Sunrise’ (which in fact aligns with the sunset), and a Cocker solo-in-part ‘Like A Friend’, both of which lead back to a closing that sees Pulp in full-on 90s anthem mode.
‘Underwear’ and emphatic mega-hit ‘Common People’ sum the band up: a moment of sexualised silliness, and then a moment laden with soaring poetry, a witty class commentary that cut through the chaff of 90s Brit Pop and made the Sheffield act into the choice of many, and perhaps the most compelling act of that era.
Pulp – the lesser spotted Pulp, at this stage – are ready to revel in the best of all their many years. Tonight’s display is witty and engaging, powerful and poetic, and, in short, everything that this band have come to represent rolled into two punchy, emphatic hours. Even after all these years, it’s hard to imagine they’ve had many finer moments.