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Pulp's originals get back together - and the magic's still there

Pulp's original lineup perform in concert for the first time in 15 years - and they haven't lost their magic.
Jarvis Cocker on stage with the original members of Pulp at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona.
Jarvis Cocker on stage with the original members of Pulp at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona.

Fans of the band Pulp went home happy from the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona in the early hours of Saturday morning after the group played an exuberant and crowd-pleasing 90-minute set; it was their first full-scale live show in almost a decade, and the first in 15 with their original line-up.

Performing on a stage that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, Jarvis Cocker and his five bandmates kicked off with their 1994 single Do You Remember the First Time, and finished with a triumphant rendition of Common People that he dedicated to Spanish anti-government protesters who had clashed with police in Barcelona the previous day. When the hyped-up crowd refused to leave, the band returned to the pink neon-lit stage one more time to play their early single Razzmatazz, which, like much of Pulp's work, has a wry, bitter take on intimacy.

Cocker was only 15 when he put together the band originally called Arabacus Pulp; now he's 47, and when spotted wandering around the festival site earlier in the day he looked it: he's extremely thin, with greying, straggly hair and an unkempt beard. On stage, though, he shone, throwing his trademark moves, climbing on speakers, stripping off jacket and tie, telling stories and making sure excitement remained at fever pitch.

Nine years ago, Pulp played at the second Primavera Sound, and Cocker, standing on a stage flooded with neon light, pointed out that there's history there. "But this evening isn't about ancient history," he said. "We are going to make history. The present is so elusive, we've got to grab it. Tonight we are here together."

It was a difficult feat to top the antics of the previous night's headlining band, The Flaming Lips, who sprayed the audience with confetti, had a troupe of dancing nurses, and put their lead singer in a giant bubble, which bounced over the heads of fans. But Pulp had a trump card up their sleeve: after singing the Different Class album track I Spy, Cocker grabbed a torch and headed down to the security barrier, shining it on a couple, whom he asked to introduce themselves (their names were Shane and Michelle). "I believe you have something to ask," he said to Shane, who duly proposed marriage in front of an audience of tens of thousands.

The crowd whooped, and as Michelle considered her answer, Pulp steamed on, playing in Cocker's words "maybe the most inappropriate song possible after that," about a couple with relationship problems. Like many of the songs Pulp played, it had not been released as a single, and the band continued to mix more obscure tracks with the hit singles that had everyone shouting along with the words. Babies, Something Changed and Disco 2000 all got a rapturous reception.

"So, er, what have you been up to in the last 15 years," Cocker asked at one point. "You seem OK, yeah?" As for the man himself, he's been pretty busy - making two solo albums, directing music videos for Warp Records, contributing to various film soundtracks (Harry Potter, Fantastic Mr Fox) and presenting a weekly radio show for the BBC.

Pulp played one tiny warm-up gig in Toulouse, France, for their first festival season in nine years, which began at Primavera Sound and will continue with 21 more dates in Europe and Australia. According to a BBC interview, the death of a friend sparked the desire to get the band back together. "You suddenly realise that you can't take things for granted," Cocker said.

In an e-mail to fans, he also said that the amount of interest in a Pulp reunion had inspired him. "We knew [the band] was a big part of our lives," he said, "it's exciting to know it's a big part of your lives too... We can have fun together, get to know each other again."

It looks like the chemistry is still there. While Cocker can come across as awkward (even wilfully so), when he performs he channels all his energy into entertaining the audience. Younger indie bands would do well to take note; there aren't many groups that can stay this fresh, and inspire such continued devotion, after three decades.

Updated: May 30, 2011 04:00 AM

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