The last time bookish Britpop legends Pulp played a concert in the United States, I was just wrapping up my sophomore year in high school. The idea of making the trip into New York City to see a band was well out of the realm of possibility (at the time, I had to argue with my parents about seeing shows one town over), but for a hot minute I tried to devise some way I could see them. After all, their just-released sixth album This Is Hardcore was my absolute favorite album at the time (even though all the middle-aged suburban ennui went completely over my head), and the band was not doing the sort of full-scale tour that would have taken them to the local amphitheater in Hartford. So I had to put that idea to bed. “I’ll catch them next time,” I told myself.
How was I to know that it would take them nearly 14 years to come back? They put out one more tepidly-received album and promptly broke up. Frontman Jarvis Cocker moved to Paris, started a solo career, and seemed content to let his old band live in the past forever. The solo stuff was pretty strong, and I got to experience Cocker live in person twice in the interim, but there was still a distinct lack of “Disco 2000″ in my live concert history.
The band rewarded my patience with two phenomenally sharp shows at New York’s Radio City Music Hall this week, and during Tuesday night’s sinewy rendition of “This Is Hardcore,” I realized exactly why I love Cocker’s style as a frontman. He’s a deeply physical performer who has carved out a unique dance style. His voice isn’t the most technically proficient, but his songs would sound ridiculous if sung by anybody else. The choruses are as much about his vocal tics and asides as they are about the hooks themselves. His bands songs are deeply rooted in their conception period and yet strangely timeless. And he is so deeply ensconced in his character that it’s sometimes hard to tell where the irony begins.