Is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel? Or just 20,000 people standing in a field? Well, it was both on Friday night as, nearly thirty years after the practically perfect Different Class was released, that future became the present for the thousands of people in St Anne’s Park in Dublin. And this time round we really understood what the feeling was – utter joy that Jarvis Cocker hasn’t changed at all and Pulp with their ‘This is What We Do for an Encore’ tour, delivered exactly what we wanted.
Full of promise from the minute it’s revealed via a big-screen reminder, that this gig, their 525th, is indeed an ‘encore’, something that ‘happens when the crowd makes enough noise to bring the band back to the stage’, we’re soon drawn into a spectacular Bondesque opening as theatrical plush velvet curtains open to a tiered stage, and Jarvis appears, silhouetted against a vast scarlet backdrop and launches into ‘I Spy’. I often see Jarvis’s sartorial choices being compared to that of a nerdy geography teacher which bemuses me. I hate to disappoint with unsolicited truths but, as someone who works in a school, trust me, there hasn’t been a man that stylish in front of a classroom since Bryan Ferry did a stint in his local comprehensive in the late sixties. Suffice it to say Jarvis looks nothing like a teacher and is, as always, sleek and fabulous in a trademark velvet suit; no small fashion gesture during a high-energy performance on an uncharacteristically hot Dublin evening.
It’s straight into youthful nostalgia for the many of us who are now fully grown, with ‘Disco 2000’ coming next. As per Jarvis’s 90’s invitation, I’d even brought my baby, who, at fourteen, loved the songs, like the hordes of new generation Pulp fans in attendance, through fresh eyes undiluted by memories and the wistful awareness that time’s moved on more quickly that we might have imagined it would when we listened first time round. The crowd passionately singing ‘Let’s all meet up in the Year 2000’, despite the fact many of them hadn’t even been born then, makes it feel like a strange Back to the Future reboot. A scene tinged with sadness of course because the song’s Deborah died tragically young since Pulp last toured more than a decade ago. But we danced and drank and sang anyway because what else can we do?
The more recent, similarly premature, death of Steve Mackey, Pulp’s beloved bassist, added even more poignancy, and ‘Something Changed,’ an apt reflection on the impossibility of ever knowing what the future holds, is made even more moving when Jarvis dedicates it to his late friend. In a tribute Steve would have been proud of, the rest of the band members, joined by various musicians from Jarv Is, the eponymous band Jarvis has fronted since 2017, consistently create the old Pulp sound we’d all come to hear.
Despite a stage full of brilliant musicians though, it feels at times like a one-man show because Jarvis Cocker truly is the ultimate frontman extraordinaire. Throwing Starburst into the crowd, making bad attempts to speak Irish, and still gyrating his hips at an age where many are getting theirs replaced, he never fails to impress. The exquisite sleaziness of his onstage persona and lyrics feels even more perfect in the balmy evening setting and it’s hard not to feel young and free and full of nerve-endings, even for those of us who haven’t been young for quite a while. ‘This is Hardcore’ is a perfect example of this and as the stage steps turn red, a huge chandelier appears on the backdrop and Jarvis reclines luxuriously in a large leather armchair it’s like witnessing an English Serge Gainsbourg in all his glory.
While I wasn’t in it, I was delighted at the existence of the ‘Golden Circle’ at the front where those who were prepared to pay more could stand closer to the stage and enjoy more space. I like to imagine Pulp allow this in an ironic way, giving those who don’t really want to live like common people somewhere to go to sing out to the rest of us that they do. And they sing it loudly, just like everyone else, when Pulp treat us to the song itself as their closing encore, accompanied by Richard Hawley who, along with The Orielles, also provided the support for the evening. While ‘Do You Remember the First Time’ and ‘Babies’ brought mass audience participation, ‘Common People’ brings such euphoria that there can’t have been a person there not singing along with the chorus, while the lasers and 3D stage show light up the park in pinks and purples. It’s up there in top gig moments for me.
I’m not sure the future we got feels like Jarvis wanted it to but, despite the evening bringing frequent breaking reports of resignations and arrests among, to quote his own song, “the cunts still running the world,” dancing in a sunny field while listening to songs about life in all its joy, heartbreak, and mundanity was a welcome reminder that there is always fun to be had, even if we’re growing old, the ‘common people’ have things worse than ever, and the year 2000 is long behind us. Steve and Deborah don’t have the privilege of growing old, and Pulp songs remind us that we may as well feel alive while we are alive. Jarvis finishes off with a hopeful ‘We’ll see you again sometime.’ I, for one, can’t wait. Shauna McLaughlin
Photos by Ian Davies