As the curtains parted on Wednesday at the Shepherd's Bush Empire - and you don't often see curtains parting at gigs - it seemed that tonight we would be meeting ShirleyMansonKylie. Her eyes surveyed us coolly from a film screen, then her silhouette became visible through a giant Chinese lantern, which swivelled round to reveal the sex thimble herself, all in black. She babbled on about being held captive by chaos, and it was all very moody and jungle until she broke into a toothy grin. Suddenly she was Charlene again, and for all the supposedly stark urban angst of the music, she might as well have been wearing dungarees and wiping a dab of sump oil from her cheek.
This is Kylie's girl-next-door charm, apparently, but given that every girl is a girl next door - unless she lives on a Highland sheep farm - it's amazing that it has sustained her for over a decade. She can never reach the end of a line without gasping for breath, and all one can say about her creativity is that she named one of her albums Kylie and two of them Kylie Minogue. But somehow, inexplicably, she has remained a star. Years after her tenure at the top of the charts expired, she's still a media darling and Men Behaving Badly lust icon. "I Should Be So Lucky" is a deeply appropriate theme song.
It's also the song which turned around Wednesday's concert. After we'd sat through a few dreary clubby tracks, Kylie appeared at the top of a game-show staircase, in front of a glittery pink K that probably wasn't very big, but seemed gigantic next to her. Wearing a tiny, spangly Las Vegas showgirl dress, she recast her first hit as a Marilyn Monroe Broadway ballad - and it was fantastic. Not only was it an inspired arrangement, but Kylie even sang it well: the helium she overdosed on in the late 1980s has worn off. And at last I could understand her appeal. It's the legs.
She followed up with Abba's "Dancing Queen", an honorary Australian song ever since Muriel's Wedding, and crowned the Sydney Mardi Gras effect with two slaveboy dancers, who wore as little as they could without being arrested. The moral of the evening was that PopKylie is the only Kylie worth bothering about.
But even when she played material from her latest album (that'd be the second Kylie Minogue), the show was never less than entertaining. The band seemed more like a genuine rock combo than the expected jumble of classified-ad session musos, and Kylie treated us to three more costume changes. I can hardly accuse her of being untalented when she can run up a staircase in a vertiginous pair of spike heels without wrenching an ankle.
For the finale she stepped back in time to the dayglo days of Stock Aitken and Waterman, and sang "Better the Devil You Know" while mortars fired streamers and glitter. At that moment, she was SensationalKylie.
Pulp's outdoor event at Finsbury Park was their last chance to persuade us that they are not a spent force, that despite the meagre sales of the impenetrable This Is Hardcore (Island) and Jarvis Cocker's morose interviews, they are not about to say goodbye to the cruel world of pop. And if you believe that, you'll believe that Cocker is an ignorant scoundrel who spoilt Michael Jackson's bold artistic statement at the 1996 Brit Awards.
Those people who have heard This Is Hardcore will know that it's a heartbreakingly beautiful triumph, and considering that 30,000 voices were singing along last Saturday, there must be quite a few of those people around. As for Pulp's reportedly grim spirits, I shouldn't worry too much. If a gig's backdrop is upholstered to look like a padded cell and the opening song features the lyric, "This is the sound of someone losing the plot, making out that they're OK when they're not," you have to assume that they've got their melancholic tendencies under control.
The song which contains these lines is "The Fear", a Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd-style epic. As with most of their new songs, its sound towers over what anyone could have imagined from Pulp five years ago.
The people responsible for this sound are barely noticeable. It's up to Jarvis to give us something to watch, and luckily, whether or not he has had enough of being a pop star, he is still far and away the country's best. His deadpan remarks between each song are just like the epigraphs on Pulp's album sleeves, and every move bears his trademark: the way he flicks his fingers as if to shake off the washing-up water, the way his shoulders spasm as if he were a drunk trying to shrug off the people ejecting him from the pub. The only difference between this Jarvis and the one who got Michael Jackson in such a tizzy is that there is now more urgency to his performance. Sometimes, indeed, his cathartic squawkings were too extreme for some of the crowd. But it's worth noting that Pulp haven't changed direction, they've just accelerated. 1994's "Do You Remember the First Time" had the fans in ecstasy, but the lyrics - "I don't care if you screw him/ Just as long as you save a piece for me" - drip with as much fear and self-loathing as any track on This Is Hardcore. It's also worth noting that I was halfway home before I realised that three of their most crowd- pleasing singles, "Babies", "Disco 2000" and "Mis-Shapes" had been omitted.Reuse content