Live Report: Pulp

Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, June 16, 1998

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As the reigning king of Brit-pop, Noel Gallagher better keep a tight grip on his crown before the court jester runs off with it.

Strutting around New York's Hammerstein Ballroom with Jagger-like grandeur and a splash of spindly-limbed awkwardness, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker could teach the stiff Mancunian mainstays in Oasis a thing or two about stage presence. The only stiffness in the world of Pulp is of the phallic nature, as established with the set-opening song, "The Fear." "You can't get anyone to come in the sac/And here comes another panic attack," Cocker sang while thrusting about, immediately setting the tone for the evening, one of just three American concert dates supporting his latest release, This Is Hardcore.

After delivering the perfectly-crafted "I'm A Man" bathed in the glow of pornesque fuschia lights, all the while pounding his head at the notion of being a stereotypical male, Cocker addressed the audience. "I didn't mean to get here," he claimed, alluding to his days in the wilderness of musical obscurity. "You spend an afternoon up here going like this," he said, prancing about and mocking his own shtick. "I'd rather be in bed." Well, tell us something we didn't know.... After rubbing up against amps, literally purring into the mic and asking if anyone had tried Viagra, Cocker finally gave it a rest and picked up a guitar for a well-received version of the Different Class drug anthem "Sorted for E's and Wizz."

But not all of Pulp's songs dealt so explicitly with sex and drugs. "Daddy, I love you," Cocker whispered before the danceable father-son ballad "A Little Soul." On "Help the Aged," one of This is Hardcore's few non-sexual themed songs, the subtle British brand of cleverness that is absent in most of American pop music today lingered like thick fog over the bewildered heads in Hammerstein.

Soon after, however, Cocker was plummeting back into the sexual arena he calls home with the new album's title track, an explicit homage to wet dreams and pornography highlighted by Candida Doyle's loungey, humming synthesizers.

The four-song encore featured the long-awaited high point of the show. "Common People" had the New York crowd throwing fists in the air and singing along about lower-class life in northern industrial England. Despite the Atlantic divide between artist and crowd, Cocker brought the audience to their knees.

So, could Pulp, with a proper U.S. tour, actually break in the States? Much to his chagrin, Cocker's sissy meets pseudo-porn star stage antics could even seduce skeptics. After all, this *is* hardcore.