Review: This is peak Pulp at Leeds Festival

28 august 2011.'Leeds Festival at Bramham Park. Day three.'Jarvis Cocker of Pulp on stage.
28 august 2011.'Leeds Festival at Bramham Park. Day three.'Jarvis Cocker of Pulp on stage.

Leeds Festival, Bramham Park

By Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers

Picture by Mark Bickerdike

IT takes a lot to swing the main stage crowd at Leeds Festival.

The vast expanse, the booming noise flung across the hill from side to side by gusts of wind, sheesh, I’ve only seen a few bands really crack it over the past decade whether the festival was based at the lovely rural idyll of Temple Newsman, as it was in the late 1990s, or at the equally nice Bramham Park as it is now.

Not that Leeds is by any means alone in this.

It’s gotten to the point now where crowds at big festivals don’t even expect the main stage headliners to be the highlight of their day.

Over the years, only two approaches have proven capable of creating the sense of special occasion.

The low road: stacks of hits delivered by a madly crowd-pleasing frontman with reservoirs of energy and charm.

The high road: ignore the crowd, pick an intelligent setlist and focus so hard on the music that the audience has no choice but to surrender in the face of the sheer brilliance on show.

The headliners at the final evening of this year’s muddy, three-day extravaganza of music, comedy, burgers and booze, try something new - a combination of both approaches.

Pulp do opt for nostalgia. Well, what else can a band who last played together in 2002 do?

What they don’t do is ‘a Blur’, ie they don’t don their suits and haircuts of long ago and turn into their own tribute act, as Damon Albarn and co did last year at Glastonbury to fawning, lazy reviews.

But then Pulp were always a cut above.

In their 1990s heyday, they had it all - great pop songs, sharp lyrics, a flash of style married to serious intent.

At the peak of Britpop they also possessed its finest showman, the pencil-thin Jarvis Cocker, a man who believed in his own mission to such an extent that, even drunk as a skunk, he still cared enough in a fog of alcohol to insult Michael Jackson in the infamous bottom-waggling incident at the Brit Awards.

It’s that version of Pulp who first grabbed the Leeds limelight at at the Heineken Festival at Roundhay Park in 1995, transforming the crowd and their career with an early airing of Common People before it had been released, something Jarvis himself mentions tonight on stage.

In contrast, the Pulp who said farewell to Leeds, and themselves in 2000, were a more worldweary bunch, the frivolity of His n Hers and Different Class giving way to the resignation of This Is Hardcore and We Love Life.

Tonight, Jarvis takes the setlist of peak pop Pulp and delivers it with the wisdom of later, more mature Pulp.

It’s not that he lacks energy or his once irresistible sense of humour, it’s just he makes no attempt to pretend he is the cockier Cocker of 15 years ago leading a crusade for the geeky under-dog and sexually-obssessed misfits of urban Britain.

So we sensibly get Do You Remember The First Time and Pink Glove and Razzmatazz and Pencil Skirt delivered by Jarvis with an apt remark or witty line in the same long hair, georgaphy teacher’s jacket and big 1970s spectacles he’s sported for the last decade.

Beyond the sheer entertainment value, the beauty of what tonight’s Pulp are - and their line-up does include most of the classic line-up in the shape of Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, Russell Senior and Mark Webber - is that the songs are allowed to live or die without any attempt at artifiical resuscitation.

What that reveals is that the songs are very good, indeed, in a way that even young pup Alex Turner’s best work can’t quite manage.

What this act of nostalgia shows is that something has, indeed, changed since the days of Common People.

But not so much that we can’t see it.

Pulp’s setlist: Do You Remember the First Time? Pink Glove.Razzmatazz. Pencil Skirt. Something Changed. Disco 2000. Sorted For E’s & Wizz. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. I Spy. Babies. Mis-Shapes. This Is Hardcore. Sunrise. Bar Italia. Common People.