Saturday, 28 May 2011

Live: Pulp - Primavera Sound, Barcelona

Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain
Saturday 28 May 2011

Is this the way the future’s meant to feel?

Or just 30-odd thousand people standing in a concrete playground by the sea in

There was only one place to be at 1.45am last Saturday morning. And that was at the main stage of the eleventh annual Primavera Sound festival, by the sea in Barcelona, to witness the first official show by Pulp in nearly a decade.

They had played a secret club show in France as a warm-up, but this was the big one. Would they be able to meet the almost unreasonable expectations placed upon them? The build-up was enormous. On the same stage a few hours earlier, Belle & Sebastian had playfully sung the chorus of Common People while Stuart Murdoch worked the pit. But now, with only minutes to go, around 30,00 people are trying to secure the best spot to witness the return of the premier league champions of BritPop.
Messages are projected onto the gauze screen in various languages - Are you ready? Shall we begin? Then the screen drops away, the name PULP appears above the stage in four huge neon letters and the band launch into Do You Remember The First Time? The place erupts but the most stunning thing is how sharp and contemporary their sound is. Jarvis himself is a bundle of energy, making shapes while spread-eagled between two foldback speakers. Pulp and Barcelona have a long history Jarvis tells us. 2002 saw them last play this festival, and how it had been many years earlier since they’d last played here with Russell Senior. “Tonight is not about ancient history. It's about making history”.

In the manner of a true gentleman, Jarvis asks permission before removing his jacket, and again for the tie. Freed of these restrictions he is really able to dance and it seems he must have been practicing for this as well as the music as his moves are sharper than ever. Although virtually all the set comes from songs off His‘n’Hers and Different Class, This Is Hardcore makes an appearance and in a nice surprise Sunrise from swansong album We Love Life comes later in the set, which hadn‘t been played at the warm-up show. “So what have you been up to for the last fifteen years” asks Jarvis drolly as he straps on a guitar for Something Changed. Perhaps strongest of all is Babies, the bass bouncing along as the song gets more frenetic as it races towards a climax. The album tracks sit as well as the singles and there’s not a flat moment at any point. You might have expected some flab after the years of absence, but its unbelievably tight. Jarvis is such an eye magnet that its easy to forget the rest of the band but Russell’s violin in particular gives them an edge, and they work together seamlessly.

At the end of I Spy Jarvis takes a microphone with a camera attached down into the pit and asks for silence - something important is about to be said. Audience member Shane makes a live marriage proposal to his girlfriend Michelle. We never hear if she accepted. Perhaps not the most auspicious place to make such a tryst - to a band whose songs look at the darker side of sexuality.. Even Jarvis notes that this coming directly after I Spy was “a most inappropriate song!”

Introducing the last song of the main set, Jarvis says he’s not one for political statements but has to speak out about the police action at the protest in Placa de Catalunya, the square in the centre of Barcelona, at the top of Las Ramblas, which left nearly 100 people requiring medical attention. Jarvis aligns himself with them as indignado (outraged) and dedicates Common People to them.
They manage to squeeze in a single song for the encore - Razzmatazz, a Barcelona nightclub institution that once more cements the links between the band and this city, and makes it clear why they chose Primavera Sound as the launch pad for their summer of festivals. “We were very nervous before this gig“, confesses Jarvis as a closing statement. “Thanks for being gentle with us”.

The truth was Pulp shone.
They are back and possibly better than they were before. Make sure you see them.

© James McGalliard 2011

Pulp played:
Do You Remember The First Time
Pink Glove
Pencil Skirt
Something Changed
Disco 2000
Sorted For Es And Wizz
I Spy
This Is Hardcore
Bar Italia
Common People

Friday, 8 April 2011

Live: Kylie Minogue - London

Aphrodite - Les Folies Tour
The O2 Arena, London UK
Friday 8 April 2011

s no doubt Kylie cares about her audience, her music and her craft but when playing enormodomes facing a daunting 20000:1 ratio, you have to make large sweeping statements, or be lost to the space. From the audacious opening reveal of Kylie rising up through the stage as Sandro Botticellis The Birth Of Venus, its clear this is going to be big on spectacle. And spectacular is the word that rightly sums up Aphrodite - Les Folies, a show which jumbles Roman and Greek elements but not the classicism of history, but that of Hollywood or Vegas, never taking itself too seriously.

Each time I think
this is the campest thing Ive ever seen some even more outrageous tops it. I Believe In You sees Kylie led around in a chariot, her steeds a quartet of half naked male slaves. Later we see Kylie mounted on a giant golden Pegasus, and further along she flies on the back of an angel (although this probably owes more to Barbarella than classicism). There are large projections of male figures cupping themselves, while the revolving motif patterns of animated soldiers during Wow resemble some giant potential daisy chain. Perhaps its an acknowledgment and a thank you from Kylie (and William Baker) to a core section of her adult fan base?

But a live music performance needs to be about more than the visuals; sadly the live sound and some of the arrangements aren
t on a par with the brilliant staging. As the setlist is heavily reliant on new, perhaps not so familiar material, its key that some crowd pleasers are thrown in, yet it felt as if some of these songs were just thrown away. Spinning Around sees the house lights up, but the arrangement is stripped it of its disco sheen and the illumination merely showed thousands standing still, seemingly unmoved. Worse still was Cant Get You Out Of My Head which had an added rock riff that just killed its momentum leaving it stilted and flat. The live sound itself was not great and its low volume allowed the murmur of distracting chitchat to be clearly audible for much of the evening. If there are problems with the live sound, there are none with Kylie’s vocals. Her voice is the clearest part of the sound, and thankfully free of the effects which dragged it down on Showgirl Homecoming.

s never been afraid of her past, or trying new things. A high point is a radically reworked Slow, now a sultry jazz number, which sees her stood on a rising disc surrounded by fan dancers. Aphrodite - Les Folies is more like a piece of theatre than a traditional concert, but that means a delicate balancing act between the intimate and the spectacular. There was a full hour before the audience seemed to get involved with the show, unsure of their role as voyeur or participant, whether to passively watch or actively engage. There is no doubt that this is a stunning show visually but sometimes it seems that the artist is lost to the spectacle. Yet Kylie can hold this crowd alone as she showed in the impromptu section. I was marvelling at the small figure stood in the centre of the large arena, engaging with the audience and taking requests. This is the naked Kylie, performing an a capella rendition of Hand On Your Heart, and here sheer simplicity was its strength.

But the ending is truly spectacular as On a Night Like This features ejaculating fountains, while a final coup de théâtre is delivered with the climatic All The Lovers. which sees the stage rise up in tiers like a wedding cake, leaving a living fountain as dancers above on wires and below in the water all look towards the golden goddess. Overall Les Folies is like a bright glittering object - one that might catch the eyes of a toddler but is lacking an emotional heart to allow it to truly take root as a treasured memory in the adult years to come.

© James McGalliard 2011

The One
I Believe in You
Cupid Boy
Spinning Around
Get Outta My Way
What Do I Have to Do?
Everything Is Beautiful
Confide in Me
Can't Get You Out of My Head
In My Arms
Looking for an Angel
There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)
Love at First Sight
If You Don't Love Me
Better the Devil You Know
Hand on Your Heart
Better Than Today
Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)

On a Night Like This
All the Lovers