First Night: Jarvis Cocker, Academy, Sheffield

Cocker still believes the Rough Trade pop shop can destroy cynicism
Click to follow

So, Britain's most enduring great label, Rough Trade, is 30. This tactfully ignores a decade missing in insolvent action. But Geoff Travis, its boss, remains, an artistic entrepreneur who's maintained Britain's disproportionate history of pop invention as much as the bands he's signed. These include The Smiths, whose 1988 rush to leave for EMI riches was disastrous for band and label, and latter-day indie benchmarks The Strokes, The Libertines and Arcade Fire (another to abscond to a major in frosty circumstances).

Rough Trade is equally vital for a hundred stimulating longer shots, from San Francisco's Dream Syndicate to York's just-sunk Long Blondes. Tonight's support act, New York's word-drunk underground cartoonist-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, fits that bill. So does Jarvis Cocker.

He comes on in his new 1970s maths teacher suit, complete with a beard. He ponders it may look a little "Peter Sutcliffe". A teacher's cane completes the look, to point at slides in what's been billed as a lecture-gig. The curriculum favours lost landmarks from his Sheffield youth, a familiar theme on the Paris exile's infrequent returns. He really knows he is home when, as he ponders Robin Hood, a Sheffield voice passionately shouts: "Robbin' bastards!" The old socialist Steel City lives in every word, and Jarvis grins.

A show heavy on new songs leads with "Complications". It's bleakly misanthropic, as Cocker can be these days. Pulp songs remain banned. But "Tonight" pleads to seize the day; it is uplifting. "Big Julie" is strange and wonderful, letting a young girl's self-respect repel desperate admirers. Cocker's voice really soars, aching for her. The crowd cheer, recognising the moment. "I Will Kill Again" follows. Its simmering psychosis feels bracing.

Tonight's lecture-hall of rambling routines drawing on his one solo album are a mixed blessing.

But it is Cocker's last lecture which reminds you again where he comes from, and why we're here. A music business flow-chart is replaced on the screen by records in a shop. "Just a jumble of things on the wall," he muses. It's Rough Trade's shop, of course, a model of music as more than something to consume. It leads into Cocker's greatest pop song since Pulp, called, with deadly perversity, "Cunts Are Still Running the World". It's a rallying call wherever he plays to people who, like Rough Trade, still believe pop can destroy cynicism, and embody dreams. Such talk was common 30 years ago. It hasn't yet gone out of style.