There’s simply no escaping the nostalgia of Pulp’s second reunion tour. Their original run as a band saw the Jarvis Cocker-led group struggle for recognition for over a decade before 1992’s ‘His N Hers’ tapped into the bubbling Britpop scene that was sweeping the country, eventually turning the Sheffield mob into superstars. A string of other giddy successes followed before Pulp rebelled with 1998’s earnest, eerie ‘This Is Hardcore’. They went on to break up shortly after the turn of the millennium. A brief reunion tour featuring a headline set at Reading & Leeds Festivals alongside a surprise Glastonbury performance followed in 2011, allowing the group to reclaim their legacy as one of that era’s greatest groups before they disbanded once again.
Tonight’s show at Finsbury Park is the encore to that reunion tour. As the pre-show video introduction explains, “an encore happens because the crowd wants more. They make themselves heard.” And a bulk of the show is driven by a warm, undeniable sense of familiarity.
Cocker rises from the stage for the lusty ‘I Spy’ at the very start of the show, while everything from the dreamy ‘Pink Glove’ to the closing pomp of ‘Razzmatazz’ is bellowed back by the audience. He still does his best to undermine his rockstar status at every turn though. The opening video promises the audience “a night you will remember for the rest of your lives” before reminding the cheering crowd that this is Pulp’s 527th show. Turning it into a pantomime, Jarvis throws fistfuls of chocolates into the crowd before trying to catch a grape in his mouth, creating a surprising amount of drama in the process.
The rose-tinted ‘Do You Remember The First Time’ is dedicated to those in the crowd that were here the last time Pulp played Finsbury Park, 25 years ago, with Jarvis commenting, “it sounded better tonight”, with a little smirk.
Still, as he explains after a thundering ‘Disco 2000’, “that’s history, and this is today.” Rather than rely on what’s come before, this run of Pulp shows is focused on their present-day prowess. Backed by a string section, the iconic band sound brilliant, with the moody synths and rattling guitar lines still packing a punch while the ever-shifting stage show has clearly been crafted with care. Perhaps most importantly, though, their spiky songs are still as relevant today.
There’s a timeless to the likes of ‘Common People’, a biting critique of class privilege badly disguised as a pop song about star-crossed lovers, and the joyous escapism of ‘Sorted For E’s and Wizz’ but the violent, anxious ‘Mis-Shapes’ rattles with a renewed rage. Tonight, it’s dedicated to anyone that went on today’s Pride marches with Jarvis declaring “everybody is worth something.”. Elsewhere, both the meandering ‘Weeds’ and its sequel, ‘Weed’s II give an empathetic voice to refugees, which is seemingly becoming rarer with every passing day in this country.
Rather than a celebration of Britishness, Pulp’s gig is a reminder that there’s still a bitter battle between the haves and the have-nots in this country. Framing this tour as an encore is a subtle reminder of strength in numbers. Tonight is still more glitzy rock show than fiery political rally, but it never just longs for the glory days either. If this is it for Pulp, the band are going out on a high, but it feels an encore to the encore wouldn’t go amiss, either.