The mis-shapes, the misfits and the downright common people took over the Royal Albert Hall last night, as Pulp’s Teenage Cancer Trust gig provoked rapturous applause and literal dancing in the aisles.
Belying his almost fifty years of age, frontman Jarvis Cocker cavorted across the stage in his trademark suit and skinny tie, looking somewhat reminiscent of a more dapper geography teacher. Alternately throwing raffish shapes, sexually perverse gestures and the kind of jumping around you’d expect from an ADHD child, his years of experience have made him a consummate performer.
The set-list was everything a Pulp fan could hope for; before it started, there was a ticker tape “questionnaire” which culminated with the all important question “Do You Remember the First Time”, they continued the hits with Mis-Shapes and Razzmatazz, before slowing things down with Something Changed. Every song was easily signposted with on-stage chat, such as Cocker’s telling the crowd “I seem to have left an important part of my brain, somewhere in an auditorium in London” before the opening strains of Sorted for E’s and Whizz. The track, always a crowd pleaser, was a real highlight of the evening, with the singer in particularly vulnerable, heartrending form as he plaintively cried “oooh, then you come down”, and the laser light display strobed through the impressive venue.
This was followed by a particularly frantic, sordid I Spy, all green lit moaning, gasping and hip thrusting, and which saw Cocker filming himself and the crowd using a small spy camera which was projected onto the big screen. Things calmed down with the tranquil album track The Birds in Your Garden, before first special guests The Boxettes appeared to provide guest vocals for Bad Cover Version, a song which Cocker described as “mean spirited, like most of our songs”. Then it was Richard Hawley’s turn to make an appearance, starting with Like a Friend, before the string section appeared for the seedy This is Hardcore, replete with more moans and heavy breathing. In an odd juxtaposition of the beautiful and the profane, Cocker exhorted the crowd to participate with the free torches they had been given before the gig, resulting in a massed sea of tiny lights all waving in time to the slow, heavy chord progressions. After descending to the depths came that morning after feeling, with Hawley sticking around for Sunrise and Bar Italia, before kicking into Common People.
The encore started with another, more surprising guest in the shape of Cocker’s sister Saskia and her former schoolfriend, to perform a very old song called My Lightouse, written back when the singer himself was still a teen. This was followed by babies, before Disco 2000 provided a frenzied finale and plenty of vogueing from the enchanted crowd.
Days ago, Cocker had announced that the band would be returning to rehearsals after watching Paul McCartney’s victorious Teenage Cancer Trust performance, but even without having performed for six months, Pulp’s years of experience meant they had nothing to fear. The slightly eclectic mix of songs proved a real winner, and Cocker’s innate talent belied the vulnerable, gawky lyrics of his songs. They may still be mis-fits, but last night they were in a different class.