This article was originally published on Louder Than War on 11 December 2013.
Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
8 December 2012
A massive hometown show full of big hits and lesser known-fan favourites as Pulp play a one-off date at Sheffield Arena.
As the mis-shapes, mistakes and misfits file into Sheffield Arena our attention is grabbed by the lasers dancing from the stage. They make words dance across the open space ‘Cold out?’ ‘Anyone from Hackenthorpe?’ ‘Are you ready?’ ‘Pulp 2012′. Excitement and apprehension build, there’s no support band to steady us – the only band on tonight will be Pulp.
When the time comes everyone cheers as one by one giant neon letters fill the backdrop: P. U. L. P and the beat for Do You Remember The First Time? kicks in. Everyone is on their feet, not only those crowding the floor area by everyone in the stands too. We are going to ‘have it’, the disco is underway.
In between songs Jarvis Cocker talks to the audience as if he’s talking to a group of friends down the pub, he manages to simultaneously acknowledge the cavernous size of the arena, be humble about being there and make everything feel very intimate. He nurtures a bond between stage and crowd to make this longed for night feel even more special.
We get a few more to get us in the mood – Underwear, Disco 2000 and A Little Soul. They all resonate in their own way, from sordid and sleazy to nostalgic longing to damaged and damaging. A Little Soul, on record a sparse affair which serves to highlight the emptiness portrayed by the lyric gets a big-gig make-over here – backing singers, a deeper warmer sound. It seems like it shouldn’t work but like many of the odd turns this band take, it does. The additions don’t gloss over or glamourise anything, the regret is still laid bare.
The lasers are then put to good use as the ghosts of raves shimmer on the back screen and we all reach our hands up to touch what isn’t there with Sorted for E’s and Whizz before F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E pumps us yet further and I Spy gives us the Ealing Comedy dark carry on of revenge. It’s all there – the trademark juxtaposition of the intelligent and the animal urges, with the backdrop of the city and society.
The ever affable Jarvis, commanding the stage like the best lecturer you never had, invites us to indulge in some time-travel. He takes us back to the beginnings of the band, talks of their relationship to the city they came from and then throws toilet rolls out over the crowd in honour of the way they used to decorate their stage before lighting and effects were an option. The toilet rolls fly over the heads of the crowd, little streamers of paper trailing, and are torn at then thrown up and back again and again. It’s just another moment of bringing everybody into the action.
We time travel with the songs too – Lighthouse, Little Girl (with blue eyes), Countdown and then the song which started their ascent to the higher levels of fame, favour and fortune, Babies.
We rumble on, the band still has far to go and much they want to share with us this evening. We get Like A Friend, Help the Aged and Party Hard. Each devastating in it’s own way, the crowd by turns dancing and standing reverently awe struck.
Richard Hawley joins the band on stage and his signature sound and striking silhouette add an extra dimension to songs already ingrained on a thousand hearts.
There is a simply massive, doom-laden version of This Is Hardcore plus Sunrise and Bar Italia.
And then main set ends as many of us guessed, or hoped, it would with Common People. An anthem for a generation and depressingly just as relevant to the austerity age. It’s an explosion of class warfare on the dancefloor as the arena breaks out their best Cocker-aping moves and scream the words at the top of their voice. It’s a perfect climax.
Of course it’s not enough and we get an encore including an extended play of Sheffield: Sex City, Born to Cry, Razzmatazz, Mis-Shapes, Something Changed and a final, final moment with a cover of White Christmas.
Will this be the last we hear from Pulp? I hope not. Their biting social commentary is just as relevant today as ever, the cultural and class divide is still there to be bridged by music. And if it is, well, they sure do know how to throw a farewell party.
All words by Sarah Lay.