Now let's get one thing straight - there are some venues that were simply made for bands like Pulp to play in, and others that were not. Forget the conference centres, the arenas, the exhibition centres, the sports halls, the uni bars, forget the ice rinks, the stadiums, forget them all, because Manchester's Apollo Theatre beats them all. This is the venue that maximises the Pulp experience to the full and the Apollo with its ace sloping floor and grandiose theatre stage created a brilliant atmosphere. Better than the dark black-hole arenas, and large enough for an atmosphere, these places were built for performances and tonight was no exception. This place has been waiting for Pulp, and tonight, this simple theatre had become the centre of my entire universe.
The first thing that hit me about tonight was how many old people had turned up. I wondered if it was the kids who had dragged their parents along, or whether the parents had dragged their reluctant kids along. Jarvis doesn't try to be a prophet of the future trends, but in writing Help The Aged, he's crystallising what was going on here tonight. It was full of 40-somethings getting to the stage in their life where they're finding it hard to grow up gracefully... they still want to have it and tonight they were gonna have it in their own little way. Gone are the pre-pubescent girls (now listening to Robbie Williams & the All Saints) who faint at the sight of Jarvis' mere fag-ends and enter the new breed of Pulp fan who is more likely to be sorted for Sanatogen & mortgages than E's & Wizz. I'm glad for their sake they did bring their kids along cause otherwise they'd have no-one responsible to watch over them.
With the lights dimmed and the curtains raised, that huge inflatable matress framed the entire stage and brilliantly the band come on only visible as silhouettes which seemed almost imposing, but then they were about to play The Fear. Jarvis walks up to the front of the stage and starts to sing the opening lines, and as if from nowhere another Jarvis appears mirroring the actions of the other! But which is which? You can't see their faces because they're only silhouettes, and as soon as you'd thought you'd worked out who the real one was, you found yourself doubting again. All this visual trickery brilliantly detracted from the song, which for all I know could have been 'Deep Fried In Kelvin', but I'm quite sure it wasn't, unfortunately. Infact I do remember that it wasn't the full length version, and that is all. It was a pretty funny idea though and Jarvis joked that his look-a-like was cheap to hire because of the new Welfare to Work scheme for the unemployed. So his humour hasn't dried up yet then.
Guitar in hand and diving straight into Babies gets the real show underway and it's only 10 minutes into the performance before we're all orgasmically screaming "I only went with her cause she looks like you... yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!" So much for the foreplay then - most of us were climaxing already, and those that weren't got there when Joyriders (yes, Joyriders!) was played afterwards. It was a wonderful slightly rocked up and broader sounding version played superbly, and after having heard Joyriders, I'd have been happy listening them inflict 'Silence' on me. Thank god they played A Little Soul then. "Dad, yer bastard" offered Jarvis sarcastically, "Go and play this to your dads" he then advised us all. He was on a roll by now and there was no stopping him. "Let's all play happy families... [looking at Nick] It's not that they don't exist it's just that I've never found any", said Jarvis flippantly - and you'd probably take him seriously were it not for the audience laughing along with him.
Next came the sublime Underwear which was another surprise and got an enthusiastic cheer which must have been really encouraging for the band - all we'd have needed after that was 'Pink Glove' and we could have almost been back in 1994. Thankfully though, the 40 year old mums had not brought their knickers and bras to lob on the stage, maybe they're not as radical as Jarvis had previously thought. Either that, or their kids were making them behave well tonight. Still, what a superb opening to a concert, could it have been any better? Two old faves, one old surprise, a solid new single and the usual introductory opening song. Top stuff which amazingly got better still with the oozingly pervy, sex laden, passion driven Seductive Barry. As good as Glasto, but not reaching the dizzy heights of the Finsbury rendition, this song was accompanied by some excellent Dr Who style image distortion projections which never fail to add depth to the experience. And that is precisely what you do with this song, you don't just watch it, you don't just listen it, but you experience and feel it. It is there with you, inside you, around you, you can touch it, feel it and even taste the sex in it. It is inseparable from you. If only for this song, you must come and see Pulp play live and you'll never forget it. With Richard on bass and Steve busy upon the mixing units, it only left Jarvis to do one better by climbing the right side of the stage jolting his lanky scissory body around to the amazing scrouching and aching sounds emitting from his electronic sound console he seemed to be shagging in sync to the music (you had to be there to believe it or even understand it). Sonic experimentalism is one phase for it, raw emotion is another, but I just call it sheer excellence. This is the best any band can get - whatever else happens tonight can only be in the awing shadow that Seductive Barry has left.
So with the taste of sex still in our mouths, it seemed appropriate that they should then play Do You Remember The First Time? They yet again showed how the Pulp sound has matured, all the His 'n' Hers stuff tonight sounded as if it had been given something extra and bigger which is possibly due to a more ambitious and improved guitar sound. Ditto for Help The Aged and the emotional sing-yer-heart out Sylvia both of which sounded much better that their studio versions. During the break between the mayhem of Glory Days / Common People Jarvis bends down near the monitors and picks up a piece of folded paper - obviously a letter from a female fan declaring her love. Jarvis proceeds to read the piece of paper aloud and it soon becomes clear that it's more of an application / appraisal form than a love letter... "Why did you apply for this job?... Are you enthusiastic?... Do you smoke?..." and finally he reads out an absolute classic, "What are your thoughts about Health & Safety?". With the band giggling behind him, Jarvis looks up at us in complete surprise. His sarcastic voice said it all, "Hmmm, I'll have to think about that one," he assured us before turning back to the band to launch into Common People which just gets madder and madder.
After the usual excellence of This Is Hardcore came Party Hard which was a vision of perfection and was much better suited towards the last part of their set. As if perfectly on cue (and with Candida and Nick giving the game away with their nervous smiles) tonnes of pink balloons came floating down from the top of the stage completely burying Nick and his drum set which he battered incessantly despite the interfering balloons (see the excellent Party Hard video to get the idea). This image of a grand theatre stage covered in baloons alongside the ear bashing sound of those growling Party Hard guitars was the defining and most uplifing moment of the night. It made a perfect ending to what had been a class performance with a perfectly formed setlist that never eased up - it was excellence on a continually high level and the balloon frenzied atmosphere had given everyone a reason to party very very hard.
Whilst the stage crew were busy kicking the rest of the balloons off the stage and into the audience, the band went for a quick drink and came back to give us Disco 2000 and Dishes. Disco 2000 started with a disguised introduction before Mark crashed in with that more familiar guitar riff. However, the song was spoilt throughout with the bass drum drowning out everything apart from Jarvis' voice - the keys and guitars simply didn't come into it. Still, it felt great to have it back in the set. With that out of the way came some intense band discussion. I could see Nick and Candida having a chinwag, and Jarvis went to Richard to have a chat infront of his amps. What was going off?
Jarvis: "You see me and Candida were having this argument earlier because she thinks we should always end on a fast one."
Aaah! That's it then - and so needless to say that if Candida wanted a fast one, then the dictatorial Jarvis would make sure they ended on a slow one (I guess 'We Are The Boyz' would have been the fast one). Maybe Candida should ask for a slow one next time and she'll be sure of getting what she wants. I have to agree with Jarvis though, after the two sweaty hypercharged disco stomps of Party Hard and Disco 2000 right after one another, what was really needed was either 'Dishes' or 'Laughing Boy' because I don't think anyone could have physically managed anything faster. And so ending on such an uplifting and soothing note by playing the mundanely magnificent Dishes made this the greatest concert I've ever seen or heard Pulp ever play. That doesn't mean there's no room for improvement though because there's still a few lose ends for the band to tie, but that's only me being picky. I was told on the night that tonight was the only sold out show of the entire tour and it felt as if Pulp were eager to impress as a result of it. Impress they undoubtedly did and I left the venue feeling euphoric because I was lucky enough to be part of one of those standout Pulp performances that won't be forgotten for a very long time.