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Live Report: Pulp

Hammerstein Ballroom,
New York, June 16, 1998

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.

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