"Do you remember the first time?" Jarvis Cocker pleads on Pulp's opening number? I do. As a gob-smacked audience member witness-ing a libidinous Cocker perform "Underwear" – one of Pulp's best live numbers and sensational tonight – on TV's The White Room in 1995, on a bill shared with Portishead. Forget the dismal Blur vs Oasis debate, the two P-bands were the most spine-tingling acts to emerge from these shores since The Smiths. If Portishead evoked J D Ballard's dystopian science-fiction, then Pulp were more reminiscent of Alan Sillitoe's kitchen-sink dramas, particularly Tom Courtenay's lanky rebellious teen in The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner. Only with added smut, oodles of added smut.
Tonight, the lithe, droll 47-year-old Cocker is in an irrepressible mood, strutting across stage, falling to his knees, referencing Grange Hill's Tucker Jenkins and John Bunyan, banging a huge gong, chicken dancing like Jagger, throwing mis-shapes, proselytizing like a TV evangelist and writhing on top of the speakers like Prince, all along to his filthy tales of sour romance. Among the recent glut of pop and rock reunions, this one's the most welcome.
Back in the mid-1990s, Pulp instilled some much needed lewdness ("It seems I saw you in some teenage wet dream" on "This Is Hardcore") kink ("I'm gonna wipe you down/ and lick the smile off your face," on "His 'N' Hers"), wit ("Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here" on "Common People") and venom ("Laugh along even though they're laughing at you", again on "Common People") into British pop. And Cocker made every gangly man (me) proud. They felt like great English outsiders who had (after 16 years, they formed in 1978) finally gate-crashed the Britpop party.
Among the many highlights tonight are a "Something Changed" sing-along, the hangover anthem "Bar Italia" (the Sheffield band's forte was chronicling London's nightlife), a euphoric "Disco 2000", Richard Hawley joining in on guitar for "Lip Gloss", the rarity "Countdown" and their final song, "Mis-shapes" ("This song is dedicated to a vanishing breed, students," Cocker informs us). And, of course, the magnificent "Common People", quite possibly, along with "Heart of Glass" and "Can't Buy Me Love", the greatest pop song of the 20th century. I remember the first time, and will certainly remember the last. Perfect.