I loved Rob Sheffield’s excellent review (excellent in terms of the writing, excellent in terms of the rating—in fact, Sheffield’s very first line is “Well, that was excellent”) of Pulp’s show at Radio City Music Hall on April 10th. Timely as always, I’d like to share some impressions from the concert, which differ from Sheffield’s but also arrive at what I think is his premise and conclusion: Pulp are wonderful.
For me, the show wasn’t outstanding. Although my views are changing, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a skeptic of the quality of Different Class, which has made me something of a willful outcast in the Pulp fan universe, like a guy selling Marxist newspapers on a Saturday in Soho. (Although I’ve found a sympathizer in Owen Hatherley, a British journalist whose book Uncommon, a self-described “Essay on Pulp,” is paperback manna from heaven.) The set list was heavy on material from DC, and I know that being irritated at “I Spy” and bored by “Pencil Skirt” says more about me than the music. I feel less biased in claiming that some songs sounded patchy. But one definition of “patchy” is “of inconsistent or irregular quality, texture, etc; not uniform.” That’s pretty much how Pulp have described their métier for most of their career: the sleevenotes to 1985’s Freaks, the opening line of 1995’s “Misshapes,” and Jarvis’s apologetic request at Radio City that Sheffield quotes in his review: “Please forgive our slightly shabby, secondhand kind of glamour.” Like anyone wasn’t going to do that.
Furthermore, while watching this group of arty, self-proclaimed misfits disarm a roomful of New Yorkers, it occurred to me that one of the things people love about Pulp is that they are patchy. Their body of work, which includes moments that are lovely, ghastly, stunning, underwhelming, and overwrought, shows us that we can make art, music, and love while still being our messy, unfinished selves. How many pop bands have done the same? Other than Belle and Sebastian, I can’t think of any.
In Pulp: Truth and Beauty, a biography by Mark Sturdy, the author quotes Jarvis speaking to the crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995, saying something similar to what he told us in New York almost 17 years later: “If you want something to happen enough, then it actually will happen, OK? And I believe that. In fact, that’s why we’re stood on this stage after 15 years. So, if a lanky get like me can do it, and us lot, than you can do it too.” Gotta hand it to Mr. Sturdy: the truth of those words, along with the beauty of Pulp’s music, produce a happiness that is rare and an example that is everlasting. Now if they would only play “My Legendary Girlfriend” next time around…