Music

Pulp at TRNSMT, Glasgow: Class anger made transcendent

Pulp's headlining set at Glasgow's TRNSMT festival is one hell of an encore.

Pulp at TRNSMT

Pulp at TRNSMT. Photo: Laura Kelly

Pulp’s transformation from perennial nearly-men to superstars was completed in a field in Somerset in 1995. It was the day they ascended to festival-headlining Britpop royalty, and the world recognised in Jarvis Cocker the greatest frontman of our generation. Almost 30 years on, in a park somewhat further north, Cocker rises up through the stage of Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival to prove there’s still no one to touch him.  

TRNSMT has always attracted a young crowd, and true to form, the majority of the audience can’t have been born when Jarv wowed that Glastonbury crowd as a stand-in for the Stone Roses all those years ago. Yet from the atmospheric opening bars of I Spy, there’s no mistaking Pulp for a heritage act. They’re compelling and vital and just outrageously entertaining. The band have branded this reunion the “This is What We Do For an Encore Tour”, and it’s performed with the urgency of the best curtain calls.

There’s no messing around here – it’s a set that’s precision engineered to delight a festival crowd. Coming off I Spy we stick with a run of classics from 1995’s Different Class. Disco 2000 has gained extra poignancy by looking forward to a time that’s now so far in the past – “let’s all meet up in the year 2000, won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown” – but has lost none of its danceability. Blessed with the spidery limbs of a daddy longlegs, Jarvis leads by throwing improbable shapes before exploding straight into Mis-Shapes.

Lean in and you can feel the potent anger from this song – every weirdo’s greatest revenge fantasy – but here, today, it is triumphant. It’s a rare artist that can connect to the sort of huge mixed crowd you get at a summer festival. Great songs can fail to make that leap across the pit into the hearts of your audience, big swings can miss. Mis-Shapes hits home, transforming onlookers into an uprising.  “I’m an old man,” says Cocker as the roar fades, “I need a rest.”

Strapping on his guitar, Jarvis introduces Something Changed with an understated but heartfelt tribute to Steve Mackey, Pulp’s much-loved bassist who died earlier this year. The gesture reframes a song that’s been played at many a ’90s music fan’s wedding to become not just about romantic love, or the sudden strike of cupid’s bow, but rather a bigger reflection on all the people who make us who we are. For many of us who’ve been following Pulp a long time, that includes Steve and everyone on the stage tonight. There are more than a few grateful hugs (some of them a little teary) between friends and lovers in the TRNSMT audience – in that moment, we’re all holding on to the people that matter. It’s a straightforwardly warm moment from a band who more frequently draw on the seedier side of relationships.   

Pink Glove is a return to that louche world of bad sex, regrets and jealousy (“Oh you’ll always be together, ’cause he gets you up in leather”). But, never predictable, Jarvis follows up by leading a singalong of Happy Birthday in honour of Ringo Starr’s 83rd birthday, and then Weeds – with its story of how refugees survive against the odds. As government rhetoric around “stopping small boats” continues, it’s sadly only become more relevant since it was released in 2001.

Returning to 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers, there’s a raucous version of Do You Remember The First Time?, before Babies sees Jarvis haunted by a gigantic version of his younger self projected on the screen behind him, wearing what must surely be the greenest shirt anyone has ever owned and performing a sort of cross between sign language and dancing with those long, long fingers. It’s to his enormous credit that 59-year-old Jarv can still give that younger man a run for his money.

Sunrise is an incredible end to the main set, with an angular Jarvis in silhouette writhing to Mark Webber’s guitar solo. But of course it’s not over. Of course they’re coming back. This generous incarnation of Pulp are not going to leave TRNSMT without giving everyone what they want and, sure enough, we all finish our night singing along with the Common People. Like Mis-Shapes, it’s a song that might have come from rage and the class divide, but in the right hands – these balletically elegant hands – it is transcendent and hopeful. An anthem for everyone who – like Pulp – holds on in there for their chance to change the world, to change your world.

@laurakaykelly

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