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