With his brown suit and matching beard, brandishing a didactic cane, Jarvis Cocker looks like the Open University lecturer from one of John Simm's dreams in Life on Mars as he steps on to the Shepherds Bush stage. And with its overhead screen and computer-assisted projections, there is something of the college audio-visual department about this "30 years of Rough Trade" show.
To warm us up, Cocker uses the screen for some sight gags, mutely flashing up such standard rock concert quips as "Are you feeling all right?", and "You're looking good". He then gives us a local history lesson, using an old black-and-white still of the Empire (headline act: Max Miller), and the cover of an LP called Fight the Flab with Terry Wogan.
Jarvis, though, is more of a natural when he drops the visual gimmicks and settles into the role of raconteur. Topics include the importance of men wearing long socks (to avoid exposing "that bit of waxy leg"), getting a Proustian rush from the taste of a Wimpy spicy bean burger, the psychological effects of the nearby Westfield shopping centre, and the self-deprecating admission "A few years ago I had the blinding revelation that I'm not very deep". His storytelling spell falls flat only rarely, such as the awkward moment when he starts to reminisce about the Tarzan television series, but realises that everyone's too young to know what he's talking about.
If I still haven't mentioned the music, it's because it takes up less than half the show, which could serve as an excellent audition for An Audience with Jarvis Cocker on TV. He's an unparalleled entertainer and the perfect genial host, spreading the common cold virus by handing around his "medicinal" whisky stash.
The set list showcases several songs from what will be his second solo album, of which the hard-rockin' "Angela" is particularly ear-grabbing. There's no Pulp – the diehard fan in me hopes that it's because he's keeping his powder dry for a future reunion – but it's barely necessary when the unreleased "Girls Like It Too" so resembles a great lost Pulp song anyway, as does "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time", even in isolation from that wonderful taxi-driving video.
Cocker's songwriting remains rich. The lyrics are stacked with extramusical references, to Wearside Jack (in the mid-life crisis classic "I Will Kill Again") and Philip Larkin ("If your parents didn't screw you up ... do it yourself"). There are musical ones too ("Black Magic" built on the chassis of Tommy James's "Crimson and Clover"). There's autobiography (the couplet in "Tonite" that goes "Somebody falls in love/Somebody falls from the window sill" echoing Cocker's own youthful tumble). There's ribald smut ("I heard it said that you're hung like a white man" from "Caucasian Blues"). There's weary wit ("They want our way of life/Well, they can take mine any time they like" from "Auschwitz to Ipswich", not played tonight). And there's political anger in "Cunts Are Still Running the World".
He remains, in his mid-40s, a dynamic performer. Jarvis knows how unusual his body is, and uses every inch, skittering between star jumps, explosions of limbs, alarming sex-mimes and, when possessed by the ghost of Max Miller, tap-dancing. The show ends with a sumptuous piece of mirrorball disco called "I Don't Wanna Lose You Again", which proves that Jarvis is as much the British Barry White as he is the anglophone Serge Gainsbourg.
It's easy to become blasé about Ladytron, and take their excellence for granted. To a spoilt listener, this year's Velocifero was just another album of the sublimely elegant analogue electro-rock that the Scouse-based synth-twiddlers have been serving up for the best part of a decade.
The interaction of their dual lead singers – Isla St Clair lookalike Helen Marnie and the Bulgarian Mira Aroyo – is key. Mira's heavily accented deadpan delivery adds a different flavour to Helen's purity and clarity, for example on the sweetly haunting "Kletva" (a reworking of a Bulgarian children's television theme) and the impenetrable aggression of "Fighting in Built Up Areas", the nearest Ladytron get to a wall of pure noise, literally musique concrète.
Of the Velocifero material, "Season of Illusions" ("Obliterate the Sunday you've been cherishing all week ...") meshes best with the icy mystique – all oblique strategies and coded signals – that has typified the Tron's finest moments. Many of these are revisited tonight, including the Robo-Motown of "International Dateline", the vertiginous magnificence of "Destroy Everything You Touch", and the still-astounding "Seventeen", whose one verse becomes more intriguing with cumulative repetition: "They only want you when you're 17/When you're 21, you're no fun/They take a Polaroid and let you go/Say they'll let you know/So come on ..." Ladytron make it look so easy. Too easy, perhaps, for their own good.Reuse content