Jarvis Cocker, Concorde 2, Brighton<br/> New Young Pony Club, Astoria, London

The human coat hanger's magnificent comeback
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The Independent Culture

'The old man's back again..." The mischievous DJ at the Concorde 2 couldn't resist Scott Walker's classic song in the dying minutes before showtime. "I can see him back again..." And now, I can see him too. Aged 43 and looking more than ever like the man your mother warned you never to accept sweets from. "I'll admit I'm a little bit nervous," Jarvis Cocker says from a darkened stage.

He has been away. Then again, he hasn't. In the five years since Pulp's final album, Cocker has fronted Relaxed Muscle (under a pseudonym), written songs for Marianne Faithfull, Nancy Sinatra and Charlotte Gainsbourg, guested on the Richard X album and participated in any number of tribute projects. He's even appeared in a Harry Potter movie.

But this - a semi-secret seaside warm-up - is the real return of Jarvis Cocker, Pop Star. No hiding behind aliases or disguises, no puppeteering from behind the scenes.

As his band - an ensemble which, at one point, features four former members of Pulp: Steve Mackey, Richard Hawley, Candida Doyle and Jarvis himself - rattles into the first song, "Fat Children", some sort of muscle memory kicks in. He jerks. He twitches. He twirls one long bony finger, as though stirring coffee in zero gravity. One second he's an electrified crow, the next a human coat hanger. At one point, he even turns around and wiggles his bum at us, reprising his most famous (to the general, Brits-watching public) moment. It's as though Jarvis simply can't help being Jarvis: this, still, is what he does.

This is the first time that the songs from Cocker's really rather magnificent solo album, simply entitled Jarvis, have been performed in public, and we hear them all, plus some non-album tracks. Three of them - "Heavy Weather", "Tonite" and "Quantum Theory" - sound strangely placid and contented. That still leaves 75 per cent which are infused with the irresistible drama, exquisite wit, glass-sharp insight and heart-wrenching emotion you expect from Cocker.

"Black Magic" (nakedly ripped off from Tommy James and The Shondells' "Crimson and Clover") and "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" are the outstanding two, although "From Ipswich to Auschwitz", on account of its title alone, will raise more eyebrows than a Paul McCartney lookalike convention. One song, "I Will Kill Again", could be read as a depiction of a retired rock star. "Build yourself a castle," it begins, "Keep your family safe from harm/Get into classical music/Raise rabbits on a farm..." Indeed, it may sound somewhat autobiographical, coming from a man who's retreated from the public eye to live in France with his wife and son. But a man whose comeback single (all right, comeback download) was called "Cunts Are Still Running the World" can hardly be accused of complacency.

The between-song banter - whether about Wearside Jack, Ladybird books or Rumpelstiltskin - almost outshines the songs themselves. This is vintage Jarvis: every show as individual as a Sheffield snowflake. We need him back. He will thrill again.

"Is that 'ooh'", asks Tahita Bulmer, the battle already won,"...or is it 'boo'?" New Young Pony Club were winning rosettes at the gymkhana of pop long before Intel Processors began using their music in a TV commercial. And long before certain johnny-come-latelys attempted to lump them in with New Rave. They're nothing of the sort: where New Rave is all about hyper-alert rigour, NYPC are all about super-sensual languor.

Yes, there are boys in the band, but they're outnumbered. NYPC are a very female funk-punk proposition, taking their cues from Tom Tom Club (for the populists) and ESG (for the obscurantists). Tahita, the part-Egyptian singer, is almost intimidatingly cool. Keyboardist Lou is almost too nonchalant to touch the keys. Every beat from drummer Sarah is followed by a hi-hat, impatient for the next one. They're that kind of band.

They're mischievously disingenuous about the filth of their lyrics: in interviews, Tahita insists that "Jerk Me" is about West Indian chicken. Yeah, and "Ice Cream" is about Cornettos... When, during the latter, she proclaims herself "sick like Sid and Nancy", she surely means it in both senses: the senile (opprobrium) and the juvenile (esteem). And for an inbetweeny like me? It's "ooh".

s.price@independent.co.uk

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