'This is a special show for us,' acknowledges Jarvis Cocker, front man and guiding intelligence of the group. 'Tonight is the nearest we've ever played to the place I first had sex.' He's referring to Weston Park, across the road, where - according to the 25-minute film he made with the bassist, Steve Mackey, to promote the group's last single 'Do You Remember The First Time?' - Jarvis lost his virginity one balmy summer evening.
The film, in which a motley group of celebs and unknowns - John Peel, Jo Brand, Viv Stanshall, Vic Reeves and Alison Steadman amongst them - reveal all about their earliest sexual encounters, is typical of the group's methods, picking about in a seemingly desultory, slightly ironic manner amongst the detritus of people's lives, searching for the observations that reveal the larger picture.
Introducing 'Acrylic Afternoons', a song celebrating the languor of daytime sex, Cocker makes reference to the way the sun shines through net curtains in the afternoon, the way it reflects on dust-motes and reveals smudges on table-tops which you'd not otherwise notice - 'little details that stick in your mind, even though you might not know it at the time'.
A poet of the everyday whose songs are like mini-playlets, and whose lines are often equal parts sensitive and scissor-sharp - 'The night was ending / He needed her undressed / He said he loved her / She tried to look impressed' runs the first verse of 'OU', an early single performed on this night with energetic flippancy - Cocker has justifiably drawn comparison more with the likes of Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh than with his pop peers.
Live, the group seem almost a parody of a proper pop group, with billowing clouds of dry ice obscuring the stage and a projected backdrop featuring the word PULP in blue and red neon letters. Russell Senior, the guitarist, attacks his instrument with a Townshend-style windmilling arm, and during 'His 'n' Hers', Jarvis even clambers atop the speaker stacks for a verse or two - though he disdains the usual rawk 'n' rowll leap back to the stage in favour of a more dignified descent. A tall, slightly epicene figure, Cocker's stage act is a bizarre ballet of hand movements and leg-kicks, like some absurdist branch of the martial arts, though more Leapy Lee than Bruce Lee; sensibly, the rest of the group keep their distance.
His vocal style, meanwhile, is equally flamboyant, swooping from whispered intimacies and baritone murmurs to breathless 'oh-oh-ohs' and bat-squeak squeals of passion, but always returning to memorable choruses in which the grand romantic sweep of the songs is hammered home with the cabaret fervour of a Piaf or a Gaynor - the latter implicitly saluted in an encore of 'She's A Lady', a song which draws heavily from 'I Will Survive'.
It's testament, too, to the band's own survival instinct, through lean years of indie-scene attrition to this evening's professionally-honed pitch of pop adventurousness. At one point, the 'neon' backdrop flickers out to leave just a red 'L' behind the band: in years past, this might have stood as ironic comment on their clattersome musical fumblings, but now they're clearly learners no more.Reuse content