Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The Warfield, San Francisco
So, last night, on the 29th anniversary of the release of their first record, svelte glammy/chatty Britpop heroes Pulp stormed the Warfield, where they played the shit out of their best singles and album tracks, stuck around for two encores after closing the main set with "Common People," and were either a touch longwinded or a revelation of the power of theatrical dork-sex rock and roll, all depending on your eagerness to take in songs from the six Pulp albums not called Different Class.
A devotee of His n Hers, We Love Life, and especially the bleak, sublime This Is Hardcore, I'm more the latter than the former, but to be fair I'll leave the evaluative assessment portion of this write-up with this: Pulp played a lot of songs very well.
Now that that's out of the way, here's eight observations from the show.
1. "Common People" is the best British rock single of the '90s. Maybe it's the excitement of the Warfield singalong, or maybe it's residual pissiness related to #Occupy, but mostly it's just straight-up truth. What other Britpop song compares? "Wonderwall" and "Live Forever" are gorgeous and great but dumb as cannonballs walking down the hall; the pop bliss of "Girls and Boys" is corroded by Blur's prim bitchiness about pansexuality; Suede's "Animal Nitrate" and "The Wild Ones" are glorious but too sly and overheated to achieve the universality of the greatest singles.
Angry, sexy "Common People," though, has transcended its moment, and sounds, today, in the States, as urgent as ever. That's probably due to:
A) the rare and recent burst of American class consciousness;
B) the song's prescient danceability, an early warning that even in England popular music would evolve beyond guitars;
C) Jarvis Cocker's plain-spoken first-person narrative, which distinguishes it as the rare post-Nevermind rock hit with lyrics that are either representational or humorous, both of which are things that people actually like;
D) its exploitation of a trick that only Nashville and rappers and the ICP and the touring cast of Rent are gauche enough to use these days: insisting that the everyday people singing along actually constitute an exclusive club that other people are for whatever reason too inauthentic to join; and
E) its gratifyingly mean-spirited rewriting of the audience-flattering cross-class come-on lyric from "Tight Fittin' Jeans" by the great Conway Twitty, seen here in Evel Knievel pajamas and the finest afro an Arkansas white boy ever dared rock:
2. Jarvis Cocker is a first-rate frontman. He leaps. He flails. He poses in triumph, and he's gangly and sharp-edged enough that these poses, when silhouetted, all look like little logos for himself. He mimes comic nonsense. He pretends to run in slow motion, his dapper jacket flailing behind him like he's a silent-film comedian dashing through a storm. He acts like the microphone is his dick. He pelvic thrusts and gasps "Ah!" with a lurid dampness. He quotes Thornton Wilder and Isak Dinesen, because it was their birthday. He sometimes picks up an acoustic with a skull sticker on it. He crushes to his face the cup of a bra tossed to the stage. He sings as well as he ever did, perhaps with more grit in his Bowie baritone, and with undiminished power on those keening, desperate upper-register cries on "This Is Hardcore."