Birmingham NEC: 2 December 1998
Review by Mark Sturdy

Everyone hates the NEC. It is nothing more or less than a great big horrible cowshed with overpriced drinks, perma-full cloakrooms and no atmosphere whatsoever. It is therefore all the more astonishing that Pulp managed to make it the scene of probably the best concert I've ever been to.

I can't really say a great deal about the actual show that other people haven't said about other concerts on the tour. The diverse, slightly schizo 'This Is Hardcore'-based repetoire - by turns dark and grandious (Seductive Barry, This Is Hardcore, well-chosen oldies like Live Bed Show) and warm and intimate (TV Movie, A Little Soul) - adapts perfectly to live performance. The rockier stuff in particular is tailor-made for being played loudly in a big room - Party Hard rocked like a fucker. Also, TV Movie was supremely moving - I don't normally get a lump in my throat because of the lyrical content of songs (usually I'm more moved by the music), but that song really gets me for some reason.

I found myself seated for the first few songs because the ticket bods claimed that they only had seated tickets left. In reality, however, the standing area was (depressingly) half-empty, so I went 'Fuck this', vaulted over the back of my seat, sneaked past the bouncers and made my gangly way into the throng. It would have been nice to see the place a bit more full, but it didn't seem to faze Pulp at all - they seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

Jarvis' chat was ace, as ever, rambling on about Giant Haystacks and taking the mick out of his body-double Gareth's Tony Hadley impersonations. We got Babies quite early on - nice to hear it again, but it somehow sounded a bit odd - maybe because Russell wasn't there. Also missed was the nice old wooden Hopf semi-acoustic guitar that Jarvis always used to play. Usurped by a great poncy bloody Les Paul. Shame.

At the end of the main set, we were supposed to have a load of balloons falling down from the ceiling, but it somehow went wrong and we only got about two, and were greeted with the spectacle of Jarvis stood at the front of the stage, frantically trying to jump up and reach the bit of string that supposedly released the balloons and failing miserably. After giving us Disco 2000 for an encore (fantastic, obviously, but it was a shame we didn't get any of the oldies that they'd supposedly been rehearsing - where was She's Dead? Or Anorexic Beauty? Or Blue Girls? Eh? Eh?) he went "Only one thing remains to be done", and two roadies came on from either side of the stage and lifted him up on to their shoulders so he could get the balloons down. And he still couldn't do it! Bless.

All in all, it was a really, really great concert. The back projections for This Is Hardcore and Seductive Barry were really stunning, and the whole concert had a wonderful vibe about it. Man. (And if Pulp can turn a night out at the NEC into a fun occasion, there's hope for us all yet.)

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