Saturday 29 July 2023

Pulp - Hammersmith Apollo - 28th July 2023

I once commented that I thought that Jarvis Cocker was "the most (only?) interesting man in British pop".

Looking back it seems a rather pompous statement, worthy of those music journalists I despised when I occasionally picked up a copy of NME or Melody Maker as a teen, but there's little doubt that Pulp made some of the most interesting Britpop records and that much of their material has stood the test of time far better than the nasal whines of Oasis and the rather bizarre stuff of Blur.

Not being a fan of big outdoor events, I was disappointed to see their original "This is what we do for an Encore" tour was all outside, but equally excited when I later saw they were adding a few indoor venues, including one of my favourites, the Hammersmith Apollo (I'm sure they could have filled the O2 for a week, so it was great to see them play the far more intimate Apollo. Jarvis commented at one point that they'd never played the Apollo, but he had always wanted to, so maybe that played into the decision).

However, I balked at paying £80+ when the tickets were announced (I'd never paid anything like that before - St Vincent, at the same venue was around £35, David Byrne less than £50!) and in the couple of hours before I changed my mind, they'd sold out, so I figured it wasn't to be (I certainly wasn't paying insanely inflated resale prices).

And then, a couple of weeks before the event, they released another batch of stall tickets and I didn't hesitate, getting a ticket for the first of the two gigs.

I'd seen the setlist from some of the other events on the tour and reminded myself of some of the lesser known tracks in the time before going.

I drove to Richmond, parked for free and caught a tube into Hammersmith, arriving about 6:45.

I decided not to join the queue and went to Nandos for dinner, returning about 45 minutes later and walking straight in.

The venue was fairly busy, but with plenty of room in the stalls for me.

The curtain was drawn, with a collection of very traditional instruments in front of them.

Just before 8, three men and a woman appeared from behind the curtain and picked up/sat behind their instruments.

This, is turned out, was Lisa O'Neill, an Irish Singer-Songwriter. To be honest, they were 100% not my taste. I didn't like the mournful tunes, I didn't like her voice, there was zero charisma, but I guess some will have liked it. The least worst (for me) song was a cover of a Sinead O'Connor song, performed in her memory, but I'm sure the original was better.

It seems she is a favourite of Jarvis, but she didn't do anything for me.

There then followed a short film in memory of their former Bassist, Steve Mackey, who'd died earlier in the year at the age of just 56.

We had the usual shennagins after that, the the Irish instruments being taken away and then, at 9 sharp, the lights went down and the words "Good Evening" were projected onto the curtains.

Further words were then projected, all leading up to the name of the tour "This is what we do for an encore".

Jarvis Cocker, of course, is famous for attacking Michael Jackson's crucifiction performance at a Brits Award (and rightly so, self-regarding Paedo twat that Jackson was), but clearly a lot of the crowd regard him in near messianic terms (Am I veering into Music Journalist pomposity again? Perhaps it's unavoidable with Cocker).

"I-Spy" opened the set and as the curtains drew back we saw the band and a string section spread across the stage.

We could hear Jarvis, but he wasn't on stage,but as a large moon image was projected on the back of the stage, he rose from the floor to be silhoutted against the moon.

Disco 2000, one of their crown jewels was the second track, ensuring that anyone only slightly familiar with their material was quickly up to speed with the rest of the faithful.

As you can hear here, most people were singing loudly along, but in the audience, you could hear that Cocker's voice was the usual distinctive, near-spoken one and that the band were still remarkably good, helped by the string section's swelling of the sound on many songs.

"Miss-Shapes" followed, and then the gentler "Something Changed" was dedicated to Mackey, followed by the seedier Pink Glove and Weeds and Weeds Part II, which demonstrated Pulp's often darker lyrics and tone.

But part of Pulp's appeal is their breath of styles they can perform so deftly, as the bombastic "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E." and "Sorted for E's and Wizz" amply demonstrated.

A throne appeared at the top of the stairs where the moon had originally been and Cocker lounged louchly in it for "This is Hardcore".

The chirpy upbeat sound of "Do You Remember The First Time" and "Babies" followed, driving the audience and then the main set finished on the lesser known "Sunrise", ending as Cocker walked into a setting sun lamp.

Of course, we all knew there was an encore to "This is what we do for an encore" and they were very quickly back to perform "Like A Friend", "Underwear" and, of course, their most famous song "Common People" (with an introduction of the band members) which absolutely (as the phrase goes) brought the house down, with everyone upstairs in the seats on their feet as well as the 'Hardcore' down in the stalls.

The lights didn't go up though and no-one in the audience was leaving, so back they come for a second encore (as I knew they had elsewhere).

This was made up of lesser known tracks, "After You", "Razzamatazz", "Glory Days" and finished on the second outing for 'Hymn of the North", a song written for a little performed play and then that was the 11 O'Clock curfew reached.

So, that's what happened, but did I feel it was worth the money?

Writing this the following day, the songs are still swirling around my head.

Jarvis was the gangly, angular, witty, really rather likeable frontman he always was (tossing chocolates and grapes into the audience at times!), if (like all of us) no longer the youth he seeemed on the early videos that sometimes played on the back drop to the stage.

The band performed well, sometimes it's not easy to recognise songs at first when they're performed live, but they sounded like they did on recordings, with the added excitement of a live performance.

The string section buoyed the sound where appropriate (again something many bands neglect, or I guess can't afford, on live performances), although there was a long section where they were absent, only returning for the second encore, I think.

The venue was packed and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Gigs at the Apollo always, in my experience, feel like a small venue gig with some of the advantages of a bigger one. Bigger stage, lighting, good acoustics and that sloping floor that ensures that even at the back of the stalls, you can still see the stage clearly!

Aside from the finale, every track was a nostalgic trip down the best of their back catalogue, with no 'this is off our new album and we'll never play it again after this tour' filler.

I'd have included Live Bed Show, personally, but I'm sure everyone else had a favourite track missing, but I'm sure few would have minded another hour of this!

The audience surprised me a little. Of course there were plenty of 50+ aged people there, but there were also lots of people in their 20s and 30s around me and they seemed to know the songs as well as I did.

So, overall, I'd say it was a great gig, not the very best I've been to and the support act left me cold, but Pulp delivered a fantastic performance and I don't even mind having paid the price of the ticket!

It has, though, cleared out my gig budget for 2023! Luckily, I've already booked a couple more gigs for later in the year.

I Spy
Disco 2000
Something Changed
Pink Glove
Weeds II (The Origin of the Species)
Sorted for E's & Wizz
This Is Hardcore
Do You Remember the First Time?
Like a Friend
Common People
Encore 2:
After You
Glory Days
Hymn of the North

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