POP / The last detail: It was a special night for Pulp, playing at home with their first single in the Top 10. Andy Gill was there

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The Independent Online
The week that Pulp, after more than a decade scratching around in indie hell, finally crash into the Top 10 with their His 'n' Hers album, they happen to be playing their home town, Sheffield. As the first bona fide pop personalities the city has produced since the heady days of the Human League and ABC, this makes their show something of a triumphant homecoming, with a bulging guest-list and post-gig party.

'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.