“I’m in no way an expert, but I think that to move forward we must first look back to see what man was all about in the first place,” Jarvis Cocker sagely tells London’s The Steel Yard during one of several whimsical lectures during the first gig of 2020 for his latest project JARV IS…
Cocker’s in a typically analytical mood, noting the need to “reconnect with our primal instincts” in the digital age. On the internet, he tells us, the past exists at the same time as the present. “We should not allow this to camouflage the moment of the now,” he muses.
It’s in this flat plain of time online, in which it’s easy to get lost in YouTube blackholes, that you can easily forget that the glory days of Britpop ended 20 years ago. Since 2002, bar a two year run of glorious reunion shows starting in 2011 and one-off single ‘After You’, Pulp have been inactive but a constant in our hearts, minds and indie playlists. They still feel close, but it has been done. Tonight though there is little time for nostalgia; Cocker lives solely in the now.
With a mirror held aloft, Cocker’s tall, spindly frame cuts an iconic silhouette as he takes to the stage. His presence is familiar, but the sound of the JARV IS… ensemble and cuts from their upcoming debut ‘Beyond The Pale‘ are refreshingly alien. ‘Sometimes I Am Pharaoh’ and ‘Am I Missing Something’ bring Nick Cave-esque evil, fire and brimstone to his usual kitchen sink melodrama, ‘Must I Evolve?’ is a silly psych-rock tale of man’s journey from the cave to the rave, ‘Children Of The Echo’ a sprawling electro-pop epic, ‘Swanky Modes’ a jazzy Scott Walker style takedown of gentrification, and new single ‘House Music All Night Long’ a shimmering but subtle disco lament of someone who longs to be off his head in the club, but is trapped at home getting to know his appliances and interiors. It’s pure Jarvis, but not as you know him.
More familiar solo tracks are also aired (most notably the jarring garage rock of ‘Further Complications’ and the rollicking mass dance-along to ‘Homewrecker!’), but the centre-piece of the evening is ‘Cunts Are Still Running The World’. Following a campaign to get the 2006 single to Christmas Number One in protest against the Conservative Party’s election win last year, the track has been reinvigorated as a nihilistic anthem for our time. Still, there’s a comfort in that which brings us all together.
Thanking the fan in attendance who started the campaign, Cocker tells us of how it went to to raise £12,000 for homeless charity Shelter. “Now that we’ve established that everyone in this room is really nice,” Cocker tells the audience, “the main thing to realise is that all that spirit anti to what went on in the election still exists. In the meantime, let’s swear.”
It speaks volumes that this feels like more of a ‘moment’ than the one Pulp song to be played tonight, 1994’s ‘His N’ Hers’. Sure, a few more 1990s classics would have really raised the roof, but it wouldn’t have been in keeping with this 2020 geek crisis summit.
Seeing Jarvis dancing like no one is watching, flexing new muscles in his inimitable style, viewing the world through thick-rimmed specs and dancing through the horror that surrounds him feels far more vital. This is why you loved him in the first place.
JARV IS… played:
‘Sometimes I Am Pharoah’
‘You’re in My Eyes (Disco song)’
‘Children of the Echo’
‘Must I Evolve?’
‘Save the Whale’
‘Am I Missing Something?’
‘House Music All Night Long’
‘Cunts Are Still Running the World’
‘His ‘n’ Hers’