Of all the bands to climb the U.K. charts during the heyday of the “Britpop” phenomenon, Pulp may have aged the best.
Unlike some of their peers, they never got popular enough in the U.S. to be irritating. They went on hiatus in 2001, but their fan base grew larger in their absence. Packed with cultural satire and memorable hooks, albums like Different Class (1995) seemed only to resonate more over time.
Pulp reformed last year to play a series of live shows in Europe, then gradually began adding U.S. dates, including two appearances at Coachella – their first in California since 1996. It was hardly a surprise when tickets for last Thursday’s show at the Fox Theater in Pomona sold out within minutes. By 5p.m. Thursday, people were already lined up in front of the theater, anxious to see the group perform outside of a festival setting.
A gigantic neon “PULP” logo greeted us as the band came onstage. It blinked helpfully throughout the show, reminding us that we were actually at a Pulp concert and not in a chemically induced dream state. Looking like a particularly hip yet drunken college professor, frontman Jarvis Cocker kept the audience equally entranced and disarmed by his sense of humor.
The theater erupted into a spontaneous dance party as the first notes of “Do You Remember the First Time?” rang out. Many of us had danced to this music at various bars and nightclubs, but this time, it was the real deal. At one point a rather large bra appeared onstage, and spent the remainder of the show hanging from Cocker’s microphone stand like a trophy.
Different Class dominated the setlist, encompassing hits like “Common People” and beloved album tracks such as “Monday Morning” and “Live Bed Show.” “Sorted for E’s and Whiz” featured a psychedelic laser light display, complementing the song’s lyrical dissection of rave culture.
The rest of the set featured songs from the band’s 1992-2001 heyday, including early singles (“Babies”, “O.U.”) and B-sides or soundtrack contributions (“His ‘n’ Hers,” “Mile End”). A show-stopping performance of “This is Hardcore” featured Cocker gyrating onstage, bathed in an appropriately sinister red glow.
Cocker politely asked the crowd’s permission to indulge in two encores, which no one had a problem with judging by the screams and applause. Outcast anthem “Mis-shapes” was probably my personal favorite of the night, but the biggest surprise was “Back In L.A.,” a song dating from 1984-85 that had never been recorded.
Eventually the house lights came up. Outside the theater, the crowd mingled for a while, as if not quite ready for the party to end. Pulp had proven that their impact goes way beyond the era of Britpop. For the fans, there was never any doubt.