Live Review: Pulp // Castlefield Bowl, Manchester

“I was born to do this… I live to do this” proffers Jarvis Cocker, midway through Pulp’s headline show in Castlefield Bowl. The Manchester date is the most intimate show on the run, and the Steel City natives are welcomed with open arms to the iconic venue. Set under a viaduct, you can watch the trains trundle in and out of town in front of the river.

Support is aptly provided by lugubrious lounge lizard Baxter Dury, who treats his Mancunian audience to a career-spanning set, holding the crowd nicely and getting everyone dancing and grooving before the headline act. Before long, the sun begins to set and Pulp take to the stage. First, their backing band of extra percussion and strings take their places, before the nucleus of Pulp saddle up their instruments. The group launch into ‘I Spy’, where Jarvis Cocker emerges from the top of a cuboid staircase, bursting up through the floor.

‘Disco 2000’ follows, as did ‘Mis-Shapes’ and ‘Something Changed’. Cocker stalks the stage, clad in a brown velvet suit and a pair of Cuban heels so spectacularly large, he must be touching 6 foot 5 all in. Jarv, despite approaching 60, still has all the moves. His considerable height and rake-thin frame make him gangly and awkward, yet his swagger is that of an irresistible lothario. Cocker jumps up and down the staircase stage and back & forth between a pair of platforms. His mop of greying hair nestles coyly above a pair of Elvis Costello spectacles, as he sporadically clears his vision with a deft flick to gaze upon his audience. It is quite something for a man with the sensibilities and mannerisms of a geography teacher to become a bona fide sex symbol, but Jarvis fucking Cocker manages it with ease.

‘Pink Glove’, a hefty confetti cannon and ‘Weeds Pt. I + II’ follow, this time with Jarvis delving into his velvet pockets to produce handfuls of green grapes, which he launches into the jubilant crowd with glee. It’s clear that Pulp are thrilled to be back together: there’s no suggestion that they’re just knocking these gigs off to top up the pension pot, they give it absolutely everything, and the baying crowd respond in turn. ‘Sorted for E’s and Wizz’ is a monumental highlight, with Cocker explaining his admiration for the city that birthed the Hacienda scene. Tobacco and weed smoke hangs low in the air, a key protagonist in the makeup of Pulp, as is wine; which is sipped from the bottle by crowd members and band members alike.

A double play of ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ and ‘Babies’ is breathtaking: the low Mancunian sun burns a moody orange above the train tracks and Pulp bring the fucking house down. Their awkward numbers about love, life, sex and angst are generational; there are dads, lads, mums and daughters throughout this jubillant crowd. Jarvis Cocker’s appeal is universal, and he delivers every line like a manic poet laureate who’s just double-dropped.

‘Like a Friend’ and ‘Underwear’ make up two-thirds of the encore, as does a short reading from Alice in Wonderland. Jarvis plunges into his pocket, this time to distribute chocolates to the crowd, throwing them with all his might to reach as far back as possible before conducting his band into the epic finale of ‘Common People’. ‘Common People’ live is something monumental and unrelenting: “rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job, smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school” is a lyric that transcends age and taste: we’re all just common people, getting by. People are inches from each other’s faces, nose to nose, screaming “we dance and drink and screw, because there’s nothing else to do” because there is nothing else to do. Scenes like these are indicators of a band whose music and words mean an awful lot to so many people. Utterly phenomenal.


photo credit: Parri Thomas

Author avatar
Charlie Brock

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.