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Review: Pulp still just Common People to their fans

By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
Jarvis Cocker has rapport with fans but there is no indication that Pulp are here to stay.
Jarvis Cocker has rapport with fans but there is no indication that Pulp are here to stay.
  • Pulp reform with same line-up as from their commercial peak
  • Headlining Wireless Festival in London, Sheffield band are in fine form
  • Cocker has rapport with fans, but no indication Pulp are permanent fixture
  • Jarvis Cocker
  • Music

London (CNN) -- The main acts in a pop craze always spawn imitations. The "Britpop" movement of the mid-1990s was no exception with a succession of bands, seemingly using either Blur or Oasis as a template. But one band that could not be copied was Pulp, fronted by the irrepressible Jarvis Cocker.

The songs on their two best albums "His 'n' Hers" and "Different Class," were rich in nostalgia, adolescent sex and northern English humor -- as well as great songwriting -- and seemed a world away from the macho strutting of other mainstream bands of the time.

And if the music wasn't enough, Cocker cemented his status of national treasure at the 1995 Brit Awards when he invaded the stage as Michael Jackson sang "Earth Song." The tabloids howled with outrage but the stunt did wonders for the band's profile and record sales soared.

But the pressure took its toll and after their next two albums were poorly received. Pulp split, or at least went into hiatus. In the decade since then Cocker has carved out the perfect career for himself as a knowledgeable and witty radio DJ.

You can't keep a fine band down though, especially in these days of lucrative concert tours, and so Pulp are back on the road with the same line-up as from their commercial peak.

Headlining the Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park at the weekend, the Sheffield combo are in fine form as they crack through the songs that defined the era, starting with a muscular-sounding "Do You Remember The First Time?" and "Mile End" from the "Trainspotting" film soundtrack.

Cocker says the band are "old farts" now but their performance on "Babies" and "Mis-Shapes" indicates otherwise: like an indie Mick Jagger, the singer puts his back into both his singing and unique dancing style while the musicians, especially violinist Russell Senior, are mesmerizing.

On their biggest hits, "Disco 2000," "Sorted for E's and Wizz" Pulp give a sharp reminder that they are past masters at getting "20,000 people standing in a field" to their feet. After serving up these favorites, Cocker asks if everyone is warm enough. If not, "I can turn another bar on" -- the crowd then raise their hands to warm them on an imaginary electric fire. It's a wonderfully surreal moment.

As the night draws in, Cocker gives a hint of his mischievous streak. Reminding fans they are near a luxury development where "you need to be a billionaire" to afford an apartment, he says tonight "we are in their back garden creating a bit of noise" before introducing a rousing singalong of "Common People."

Sadly although Cocker seems proud of his songs, and the rapport he has with fans, there is no indication Pulp are a permanent fixture. "See you again in another 15 years," he says, bidding farewell. Seize the chance to see them on their remaining dates in Europe and Australia this year to enjoy a band at the top of their game. Click here for tour dates