“This is what we do for an encore,” Pulp told fans by way of an official slogan for their 2023 reunion tour, answering a question asked on ‘This Is Hardcore’ a quarter of a century earlier. 11 years since their last shows, Jarvis Cocker and co. are headlining festivals and huge outdoor gigs across the summer with no new songs but every ounce as much energy as before.
“An encore is what happens when the crowd wants more,” a message on the big screens at London’s Finsbury Park says as the show begins, with a satin curtain rising as Cocker sings the first lines of ‘I-Spy’ out of view. Then, he rises up from a trapdoor like a stadium-dwelling pop-star and is silhouetted by a full moon. So far, so glamorous.
It’s somewhat dumbfounding to realise that Cocker – a beloved hero of the Britpop boom – turns 60 later this year, such is the way that he glides across the stage, flailing his arms and bending backwards over monitors during slow songs. In fact, if you forgot your contact lenses or had a few lagers, this could be 1998 when Pulp last played Finsbury Park. Throughout, the frontman is a ball of energy during the songs, and a generous and warm host between them, his charisma not dimmed in the slightest since the band’s heyday.
Across the Saturday evening, there are only a few signs that we’re actually in 2023. First is the support acts, with Baxter Dury – an artist clearly influenced by Cocker’s quick wit – opening up with his typically idiosyncratic musings, before Wet Leg point the way towards the future, continuing their astronomic rise. Having recently played four nights at Wembley Stadium with Harry Styles, they’re perfectly at home in front of the biggest crowds possible, and ride it like the crest of a wave.
Another notable difference is the absence of Steve Mackey, Pulp’s beloved bassist who passed away earlier this year aged 56. “We’re trying to do something that is a tribute to Steve Mackey’s memory,” Jarvis said mid-show. “I tend to talk about him before this song, because this song’s called ‘Something Changed’. It’s about how somebody can enter your life and really change it all.” It brings a teary edge to the subsequent rendition of the track, a song already packed with feeling and, as Jarvis reveals, is “the only Pulp song that people have ever stopped me on the street and said: ‘We got married to your song’”. It’s also the day of the London Pride parade, and Cocker salutes anyone rolling on through from the celebrations and into the Pulp show, dedicating ‘Mis Shapes’ to the LGBTQ+ community.
Elsewhere, the excellent string section also become lighting directors and point spotlights at the crowd during ‘Pink Glove’, before turning into bucket hat-wearing ravers during ‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’, all contributing to a freewheeling sense of fun that defined Pulp the first and second time around, and persists here. After dedicating ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ to anyone at their 1998 show here, the emphatic response signalled that they all remember it like yesterday, and are still as enthralled by their charismatic conductor.
As there are probably more die-hard fans in a 50,000-strong Pulp crowd than for any other band who have played Finsbury Park over the years, the band return after the predictably raucous and crowd-pleasing ‘Common People’ – defying messages on how to get your tube home that begin to flash up on screens – to crash through fan-favourite ‘Razzmatazz’.
After a set which sprinkled in rarities and songs from off the beaten Britpop track, it felt fitting for Pulp to follow their generational hit with a one-off 1993 single, giving one more nugget of surprise to the adoring faithful and continuing to firmly tread their own path. True to form, that’s what they do for an encore.
Ostensibly, this show – and Pulp’s 2023 tour – is nostalgia fodder, with no new music in sight or promises to return after the tour wraps up later this summer. It’s the unending energy of Cocker and the sheer delight from the band, though, that make them seem good as new, and like Pulp could go on for decades from here.
At the end of ‘Common People’, Cocker introduces his bandmates by name, before speaking on behalf of himself. “My name is Jarvis,” he says. “I was born to perform. I exist to do this.” 25 years later, it’s still emphatically true.
‘Weeds II (The Origin Of The Species)’
‘Sorted For E’s & Wizz’
‘This Is Hardcore’
‘Do You Remember The First Time?
‘Like A Friend’