> Pulp at TRNSMT 2023 (review) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Pulp at TRNSMT 2023 (review)

With eight songs from Different Class, and that’s with the temerity to omit ‘Pencil Skirt’, Pulp knew what the crowd wanted, and they dished it out in generous portions. ‘I Spy’ is an ideal opener, seedy with a slow build, it gives people the chance to scream their hellos and Jarvis to be at his descriptive best before getting down to business.

A mere 23 years after we vowed to meet up, ‘Disco 2000’ got the party started. Those who pogoed freely to the tune in the 90s might have found the landing a bit less forgiving these days, but a mild touch of rain softened the grass, and took the edge off the necessary vertical movements

There was no edge off the music, or emotions though, with two further Different Class songs ensuring this was an exhilarating opening burst. ‘Mis-Shapes’ has always been the call to arms, and while it still bristles with an anger, here, it’s a celebration. Fucking hell, if you can’t glory in a song about being outsiders nearly 30 years on, in a field with tens of thousands of like-minded others, you’re maybe missing the point.

Pulp at TRNSMT 2023 – Photo credit: Kenny Lavelle

For the indie kids of the early 90s, salvation was found in small venues and drinking holes, late night radio, mail-order fan clubs, clothing and badges that held everyone together, loosely but ever so firmly. Nowadays, social media is responsible for many ills, but every single outsider, every misfit who doesn’t look the same as those around them can find their crew at the end of their arm.

That’s a good thing, and the smiling majesty of the track, in a time when the meek and geeks can legitimately inherit the earth if they want it, was an almighty highlight of the evening. Three songs in ladies and gentlemen, three songs in.

And from there it was a barrage with light pauses for breath. The tribute to Steve Mackey was good and right, and let’s be honest, I’d give thanks to Richard Starkey every day of the year, not just his birthday.
But from that point on to just before the encore, it was nearly all golden nostalgia. ‘This Is Hardcore’ was the creepy fly in the ointment, the drop of poison in the ice cream.

You can see why the masses never got it at the time, the same fate befell the Boo Radleys when they also jumped off the Britpop bus into the opposing line of onrushing traffic, but the hedonistic comedown of the song (and album) remains as compelling now as it did then.

The pace draws you in, and there’s no point in resisting, you can’t be a spectator, voyeurism only takes you so far, and as with virtually every song of the night, you’re in step with Cocker as he prowls. And as he said, ‘Oh, what a hell of a show.’

Pulp at TRNSMT 2023 – Photo credit: Rory Barnes

It feels remiss to blithely skip over ‘Sorted For E’s and Whizz’, ‘Babies’ and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ Each song has the quality and strength to stand alone in any set, but by this time, the band were on such a roll, things glided by before you realised.

‘Babies’ was special, it retained its fragile and delicate poppy nature, propelled by a robust and lusty singalong. You can never have too many ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’. And then, even at the point in the evening when many were struggling to remember lunch time, the volume of appreciation promised we all remembered the first time. And always will.

And Pulp played on, like old hands, a lesser band would have been thrown by the adulation being willed towards the stage, but you get the feeling they know how good they are. This isn’t a surprise, its what they do. It maybe makes the yawning gaps when Pulp aren’t Pulp puzzling, but making this look so effortless must be tiring.

Sheffield has reigned supreme in Glasgow in recent weeks, and while on the surface of things, there aren’t too many similarities between Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, both gigs saw an overlooked number present the band at the peak of their powers.

Similar to ‘Body Paint’ at Bellahouston Park, latter-day (in relative terms) gem ‘Sunrise’ had a right good go at stealing the show in Glasgow Green. Jarvis moving from slumbering to full-on wig-out will hopefully entice a few fans to revisit the group’s output after they checked out when things got too hardcore, but it’s presence here was supreme. A gloriously ecstatic excuse to leave it all out there before the brief respite of the encore and final push for glory, ‘Sunrise’ has always been brilliant, and it hasn’t lost any pomp in its blossoming maturity.

While Cocker banged a drum or danced robotically, earnestly, the backing band took full effect. Pulp always seemed a top-heavy band (not that way, missus), maybe not in actual numbers, but in sound, and tone. They were fun, but they took it seriously, and they dragged us into the encore with an explosion of piercing light and soaring strings. It wasn’t an imposing stage set-up, but it held a lot of musicians, and everyone played their part here.

Pulp at TRNSMT 2023 – Photo credit: Rory Barnes

Not that you need it, but the crescendo of sight and sound reiterate how live music is about far more than the audio experience.

Then in ‘Common People’, the individual pockets of partying tribes came together and bellowed every word into the Calton skyline. There couldn’t be any other set closer, closing in on 30 years on from release. The gap between the haves and have nots, the us versus them, is bigger than ever, and no doubt the potential for poverty tourism is greater than ever before. It shows up in different ways now, with digital nomads maximising their net income by setting up their laptops in all corners of the globe, by yah-yah bands enjoying a gap year or two before they lay down their keyboards and Gretsch guitars to embark on their true calling of hedge funds and furthering daddy’s money.

And for all that, it doesn’t matter. The lives of many attendees hollering about rum and cokes, supermarkets and smokes have changed in the intervening decades, it would be tragic if they hadn’t. The song will always be about what Jarvis intended, but as with all great songs whose ownership is seized from the writers and musicians by the masses, it’s about whatever you want or need it to be about. And no matter your age and circumstances, ‘Common People’ remains about you.

Jarvis Cocker remains one of the most unlikely men of the people you’ll ever find, but his anthems, politeness and high-kicking moves resonate just as sweetly, and when you have songs like this, there will always be a willing and eager audience. Whether this is it, or they’ll squeeze in one more encore, you cannot say but Pulp have been a massive success and carry a love that most bands could only dream of.

For the outsiders who found themselves in ‘Babies’, ‘Joyriders’ and ‘Mis-Shapes’, it’s a victory worth savouring.

The dates for TRNSMT 2024 are 12th-14th July

TRNSMT 2024 early bird tickets are on sale from Friday 14th July 2023

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