Jarvis Cocker is back! Here’s what went down at his tiny Brighton comeback show

Jarv is... really bloody good, actually. We know. Who saw that coming?
He may not be Jesus (though he has the same initials), but the return of Jarvis Cocker brings with him the same amount of passion and fervour on his return to the live scene in Brighton. The city has a long history of putting on tiny surprise shows, with the likes of Royal Blood, Foo Fighters, Architects and The Kooks all pitching up in recent years to play in venues of a size that they had long since left behind. Even so, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation at the return of a beloved icon tonight in a sweaty nightclub basement on the sea front.

First things first. Despite the name, Jarvis or Jarv Is (“We don’t really know what we’re called yet, it might be either?” Cocker explains), is very much a group rather than a solo project. Comprised of long-time collaborator Serafina Steer on harp and keyboard, Emma Smith (violin), Andrew McKinney (bass) and Adam Betts (drums), the sound takes in elements of classic Pulp but with added extras. Opener ‘Sometimes I Am Pharoah’ starts with an ambient roar rattling and shaking, before floating just out of reach like ‘Love Life’’s epic ‘Wickerman’. Cocker stands for much of it with his back turned, eyeballing the crowd through a tiny hand mirror – but as Balearic beats slowly drop in and finally swell, he swivels and rushes into the faces of the front row. This is the all new Jarvis Cocker, just as good as you remembered but re-energised and alive with inspiration again. This is Jarvis.

Losing none of the showman magic that defined him, Cocker is all bum-wiggles, extravagant hand gestures and eye rolls. At one point, he pauses to state how much he loved the lack of pits or barriers and the intimate setting. Leaning into the crowd, he gently strokes my arm for what feels like forever, cooing “It’s nice being able to get this close to you all…This is ok isn’t it?” With a laugh, he skips off to throw some mini-Chomp bars to obviously more deserving candidates.

Though much of the new material is described as “unfinished”, there’s little to distinguish it as such. No two tracks sound the same, and it’s clear that being back in a band is inspiring digressions and meanderings. ‘Elvis Has Left The Building’ is a burst of straight forward indie rock, while ‘You’re In My Arms (Disco Song)’ incorporates jazz elements into an almost Shaft-like groove. ‘Must I Evolve?’ has ambitions of distilling the entire history of evolution into a thrilling five minutes of synthrock-meets-motorik punk, Cocker singing “I’m dragging my knuckles while listening to Frankie Knuckles” – though at points it’s hard to tell (or care) whether he is making the lyrics up on the spot. Elsewhere, ‘Chilled Ibiza’ comes on like early-90’s New Order, while ‘Swanky Modes’ has a swaggering dub rhythm driving it forwards in its tale of a pre-gentrification Camden.

Much of the new music seems to dwell on the bigger questions in life. There are existentialist ponderings of the meaning of life filtered through one man’s meandering mind, transformed into lengthy nuggets of artrock and dance. Finishing off a gratifying night with a glorious ‘Running The World’ (“It seems to still fit the situation” he notes), there’s even time for a lost Pulp gem to be aired in ‘His N Hers’. It’s easy to see how much this all means to Cocker. “This has been like a plunge in an icy ocean, and you’ve warmed us all up very nicely” he beams before ambling off. Jarvis is back, and that can only mean good things.

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