Pulp, Isle of Wight Festival, Newport
LMFAO, King's College, London
In these dark days of indie-rock conformity, Pulp's outsider genius is as essential as it ever was
Sunday 19 June 2011
The robot voice has something important it wants to say. "We don't want no trouble," it announces, reciting the blurb from the "Mis-Shapes" single sleeve in flat, from-the-future tones. "We just want the right to be different, that's all. Do you?"
For all the glorious comebacks of adored bands in recent months and years, it has to be said that Pulp feels like The Big One. It's difficult to put your finger on exactly why that is, until you consider that robotic announcement and everything it entails. Because, from the very beginnings of Britpop, Pulp – thirtyish, corduroy-flared, northern, deadpan – were always the real outsiders in the pack, and outsiders rallied behind them.
And now, in a time when indie rock has become even more the domain of knuckle-dragging conformists than it was when the Gallagher monsters first belched on to the airwaves, we desperately need a band like Pulp. And in the absence of any suitable contenders, Pulp themselves have made their return with an action hero's timing.
So, as the sun sets over the Solent, the big black drape tumbles down, the giant "PULP" neon flashes into life and Jarvis leads the classic-era line-up into "Do you Remember the First Time", there's a phenomenal frisson of excitement among ... well, among me. The reaction to Pulp's first show on British soil from festival-goers who only remember about three hits and are waiting around for the Foo Fighters, however, is lukewarm compared with that which greeted their live return at Primavera the other week, and the partisan roar they'll elicit at Hyde Park in a fortnight's time.
No matter. Cocker, bearded, bespectacled, brown-suited and looking more like a geography teacher than ever, is on fine form, punctuating the set with the usual banter ("I came here as a child. I return as a man. Of sorts ..."), quoting Tennyson, doing a striptease, pulling kung fu poses and throwing packets of sweets to the kids in the front row – an act which, when combined with his seedy appearance, surely risks getting him added to some sort of register.
The set, while about as hit-packed as possible, doesn't pander entirely to the dilettante. Second up is "Pink Glove", a song which, with its sublimely Sparksian structure, highlights the underrated role which the ever-suave Russell Senior always played in the Pulp sound. We also get album tracks like "I Spy", the epic jealousy of the B-side "Underwear", and one of their true masterpieces, the explosive "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.".
Having been present when Pulp played one of the greatest festival sets of all time at Glastonbury in 1995, it was always going to be a tall order to hit that peak again. But any set which can close with "Common People" cannot fail. The equal-greatest political pop song of the 1990s (with Manic Street Preachers' "A Design for Life") is particularly apposite in the age of the Bullingdon Club front bench, and by the time it hits the chorus, even the Foo Fighters fans are going Radio Rental. "Won't it be strange when we're all fully grown?" Pulp asked us in "Disco 2000". We're all fully grown now. And I don't know about strange, but it feels bloody fantastic.
When the roadies are racking up the stage with giant foam rubber hands, inflatable zebras, six bottles of champagne, countless bottles of beer and umbrellas, you know that a night of solemn and serious musicianship is not on the agenda. But if you've heard "Party Rock Anthem", the irresistible gonzo-rave single which took LMFAO to the top of the charts recently, you knew that already.
LMFAO, the uncle-nephew duo of RedFoo (Stefan Kendal Gordy) and SkyBlu (Skyler Husten Gordy) are American soul royalty, being the son and grandson of Motown founder Berry Gordy. But rather than go down the classy, respectable route followed by most heirs in their position, they've done something altogether messier.
The duo first made headlines when SkyBlu was thrown off a plane after an altercation with Republican candidate Mitt Romney, which will always be on the credit side of their ledger. With their afros, nerd specs, vests with "Party Rock" in Purple Rain lettering, skinny jeans and mis-matched sneakers, LMFAO come on like an electro-rap Andrew WK, sampling "Eye of the Tiger", giving shout-outs to the "sexy laydeez", getting down with a robot dancer with a rubbish cardboard head and attacking the audience with a smoke gun. When they announce new single "Champagne Showers", you don't need to be Columbo to work out that one of those umbrellas might come in handy.
LMFAO make Chromeo look like Joy Division, and their manifesto was crystallised by Spinal Tap keyboardist Viv Savage 30 years ago: have a good time, all the time.
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