Coachella may be the best thing that's ever happened to the San Francisco concert schedule. The festival brings out a lot of names who wouldn't make it to the West Coast otherwise, and while the bands are out here, they often eye San Francisco for gigs, either to warm up or to fill out their itinerary and make the trip worthwhile. For my money, Jarvis Cocker--fresh off his Coachella appearance--is the coup of the concert season.
Jarvis Cocker, the Fillmore, April 28, 2007: Contrary to the lip service I pay to anti-snobbery, I veritably wallow in that unfounded sense of superiority at times, and one of my favorite justifications is pictured above.
Yup, I'm geeky enough to have kept my ticket stub from Pulp's show at Bimbo's 365 Club in 1996, promoting the U.S. release of Different Class. For entirely juvenile reasons, it's one of the shows I like to drop into conversation when I'm sizing someone up as a music fan. (I told you it was snobby and childish.)
That Pulp show was a haze, yet simultaneously indelible, if that makes any sense. I remember clearly the mania of the crowd and being caught up in the sea of jostling bodies.
Other details I recall: a girl at the front of the stage pulling vintage unmentionables out of her bag and throwing it at the band (Pulp has a song called "Underwear"), the awesome merchandise I passed up, and the openers Elevator Drops, perhaps the worst band I've ever seen. What I don't really remember: the songs themselves! I managed to catch Pulp one more time at their Finsbury Park gig in 1998, but who knew that it'd take Jarvis more than a decade to hit the U.S. concert circuit again?
In the 1990s, Pulp was lazily lumped in with the Britpop pack, though if you listened to any of their recordings, their music had little to do with the '60s nostalgia that the other bands indulged in--at least, not the same swathes of the '60s. Where the other groups aped the hitmakers of the British Invasion, the Sheffield crew looked to Serge Gainsbourg, Scott Walker, and other equally idiosyncratic visionaries for inspiration.
These influences became more apparent with the albums after Different Class, and they show up again in Jarvis's solo record. And though British bands are making a commercial impact in the States again, few U.K. artists enjoy the same spiritual standing as Jarvis, who's regarded as a musical god of the highest order, no matter how many records he sells.
Sales figures aside, Jarvis has retained more trademarks than you might expect. Jarvis's lyrics aren't as self-referential as they used to be, but his sense of of humor and celebration of the underdog remain intact. Former Pulp bandmate Steve Mackey lends his familiar--and very dashing--presence to Jarvis's band, and the Sheffield connection remains strong, with Simon Stafford, formerly of the Longpigs, contributing keyboards and backing vocals. (If you need proof that it's impossible to overstate my erstwhile Anglophilia, that last reference should settle all doubts.)
Once the show started, Jarvis reinforced all the characteristics his fans have come to love about him. The angular dancing and inimitable gesticulation were met with squeals, cheers, and photo flashes; the extended banter (about the size of his head, San Francisco drinking laws, and David Letterman's taping schedule, for starters) brought laughs and retorts; and the thrift-store chic--well, it confirmed that our Jarvis was still our Jarvis. The sold-out crowd ate up every morsel--not bad for a guy who hasn't moved that many units in the States.
Jarvis and the band kicked off the show with "Fat Children" and eventually hit most of the album tracks, as well as a b-side ("One Man Show") and a song he had written for Lee Hazlewood ("Big Stuff"). "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" and "Black Magic" got the biggest responses from the crowd, but the best all-around package may have been "Cunts Are Still Running the World." Jarvis launched into a long preamble about how it isn't a condemnation of all people--just the ones who happen to make the decisions. He punctuated the opinion with a particularly jaunty leap on the lyric "shit floats." With anyone else, that line would be inane; with Jarvis, it was both a condemnation and a celebration, and with it, he got us all worked up again.
They closed the too-short show with a cover of "Crystal Ships" as a tribute to the Fillmore and its hallowed history. The band seemed on top of the song, but Jarvis used lyrics sheets for his part. I'm not sure the tune worked, but it was a nice nod to the venue.
In case you were wondering, no Pulp songs made the cut, and oddly, there didn't seem to be a huge groundswell for them either. I don't think anyone would've objected to a Pulp tune, but perhaps Jarvis's return was treat enough. Sometimes these newly solo performers need time to warm up to their back catalog; I'm willing to wait it out.
I'll be the first to admit that Different Class remains my favorite Jarvis project, but albums don't win my unfailing loyalty; amazing live shows do. On that basis, I'll always have time for Jarvis Cocker--even if I have to hold out until 2018.