Memory of a Festival: 012: Wireless Festival 2011: Day Three

I’ve been meaning to go to at least one of the days of Wireless for a couple of years now – but I think really I was awaiting for the right lineup to splash my cash on – and the announcement of Pulp for this back before Christmas (god, that long ago?) sealed the deal. Well, I’d seen Pulp years ago – one of my very first live shows, at the Heineken Festival in Leeds in 1995 – but my girlfriend had never got the chance, so this was a good chance for me to revisit.

Wireless Festival 2011: Day Three
Live @ Hyde Park, London
03 July 2011

For such a corporate festival, it was actually refreshingly non-draconian in security, but the entrance issues – a thirty minute queue just to let ticket holders in, nice planning there – meant that sadly we missed Devotchka. We did however get to catch some of Metronomy, who were actually unexpectedly charming. I’d heard lots of hype about them previously, but not actually any songs, so it was quite a surprise to find them being a band that delivered a half-hour of summery, positive electro-pop that was hard not to shuffle the feet to at least.

Due to the aforementioned hangover, we did duck out for a short while to get some food and generally see what was going on over on the second stage, which at that point was sixties legend Roky Erickson – from one of those bands whose psychedelic drug intake in the sixties could have been termed as “heroic” (the 13th Floor Elevators). Remarkably, he looked fitter and healthier than any man with his past had any right to be, but sadly for me the music did nothing for me. I was expecting better than low-grade bar-room rock.

One band that divided attention amid our group – well, I liked them, the others didn’t – were The Horrors. I really didn’t have a great deal of time for the wannabe-horror-punk wierdness of their debut Strange House, but the later, more shoegazey stuff had me hooked. So I was happy to find the entire set made of the latter material, along with a couple of tracks from the new album. Lengthy, buzzing songs that perhaps would have made a little more sense in a dark club (rather than bathed in warm afternoon sunshine), they were still an intriguing band live and the epic closer Moving Further Away was quite glorious.

The Hives setlist:
Come On
Main Offender
Go Right Ahead
Die, All Right!
(new song)
Hate To Say I Told You So
No Pun Intended
Take Back The Toys
Try It Again
Won’t Be Long
Tick Tick Boom

I knew I could rely on The Hives to be rather more direct – and they were perhaps the band that really kicked the festival into life. Until they came onstage, there was only a small core of people actually paying too much attention to the bands, instead concentrating on soaking up the sun and getting a few beers in. But something about The Hives just kicked the whole place into life. They looked the part too – smartly clad in black and white tuxedos (with top hats!), massive white letters spelling out the band name across the stage, and rather marvellously their two onstage band techs were dressed as ninjas (in black and white, obviously). Now that is what I call attention to detail.

Musically they were fantastic fun, too. Their garage rock isn’t especially complicated, but crucially they have a habit of writing great tunes, and they showcased pretty much all of the best ones in this forty-minute set. Despite Howlin’ Pete Almqvist seemingly taking up half of the set time with witty exortations to the crowd – and along the way showcasing an impressive American “rock’n’roll” accent while doing so – they still managed to rattle through eleven songs and had me wishing that they were on for longer. Highlights, not surprisingly, amongst such a fantastic set were tough to pick, but I think its fair to say that Hate To Say I Told You So would have taken a roof off if there was one, while the closing Tick Tick Boom – complete with a brilliant freeze-frame moment from the entire band during a break in the song, and getting the whole field to sit down before it kicked back in one more time and the field simply erupted – ended the whole thing in style. Now, why did I hold off on seeing these guys in the first place?

TV On The Radio setlist:
Halfway Home
Dancing Choose
Caffeinated Consciousness
Will Do
Young Liars
Red Dress
Staring At The Sun
Wolf Like Me

Following that was going to be a big ask, and I felt it rather tough on TV On The Radio that they were the band that had to do so. A rather more, er, serious band, it isn’t as if their music isn’t wideranging and catchy enough for mainstream acceptance, but somehow here they simply didn’t really click with the audience. Which was a damned shame, as what they played was bloody marvellous – a meshing of post-punk, electro and soul that just soars. Somehow, even their most accessible stuff, like the funky, playful Dancing Choose didn’t really connect – which either says that those of us that like the band are in the minority, and/or that everyone else is just missing out. I really should have caught one of the indoor shows, clearly.

The second “legend”, if you will, of the day was Grace Jones – who was a striking and unmissable performer. Looking astounding for being 63, wearing little more than a velvet corset, thong, fishnets and some towering heels, she managed some form of costume addition/change for every single song, and belied her stern, cold media image by being warm and friendly with the crowd. As for the songs? Well, it was a mix of covers (Love is the Drug and Nightclubbing), some of her more reggae-based material, and then the two tracks that really made her name – a storming Pull Up The Bumper and then the closing Slave To The Rhythm, where she managed to hula hoop continually through the entire song, while delivering vocals, introductions of the whole band and roaming all over the stage. Some feat. And some show, too.

Which left us with one last band for the night – the headliners Pulp, and frankly the one band that just about everyone was there for. With all the other stages finishing before Pulp came on, needless to say it got rather more cramped than it had before, and the all-too common issue of people who don’t have a fucking clue of how to behave in a gig crowd reared it’s ugly head again. How hard can it be to be aware, at the very least, of something resembling personal space – there is being close and there is being drunkenly ground into by someone. Elbows come in very useful at this point.

Anyway, the show: well, the Pulp reunion promised the hits and old favourites, and boy did it deliver on that front. Jarvis Cocker was on fine form, both as a performer and with his dry wit inbetween songs (although I could swear that at least one song got cut after they belatedly realised they had run out of time!), it’s just that now Jarvis and the band have nothing to prove anymore. They spent fifteen years slogging away for little reward, had a few years in the limelight with two stellar albums in the mid-nineties, and then as the fame and associated trappings became too much, it was almost as if they wanted to rid themselves of their new fans (This Is Hardcore was hardly pop fun, was it?). So this reunion, after nine years away, seemed completely apt. And to no great surprise, the set was almost entirely built around those two albums where they hit their peak. So we got a few moments from His and Hers, and the majority of Different Class – no surprise there.

Pulp setlist:
Do You Remember the First Time?
Pink Glove
Mile End
Something Changed
Disco 2000
Sorted For Es & Wizz
I Spy
This Is Hardcore
Bar Italia
Common People

But there were unexpected moments, like the airing of Mile End, their contribution to the Trainspotting soundtrack – a much welcome song that was one of the first indications that the band were just as keen to appease fans rather than the fairweather ones that were just there for stuff like Common People. Other moments of brilliance during the set were frequently songs that weren’t quite the obvious ones, too. Pink Glove was an electric four minutes of pure sleaze (“He doesn’t care what it looks like. Just as long as it’s pink and it’s tight.“), while mid-set pairing of Different Class‘s two darkest moments was an utter joy – the dark, claustrophobic musings on obsession of F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E, following by the glorious suburban revenge fantasies of I Spy.

The wonderful thing about Pulp, though, is that despite their status as outsiders to the Britpop party – particularly by virtue of being considerably older than most of their peers – by the time of Different Class they had gained an innate ability to pen songs that unified everyone on their side, while simultaneously skewering the subjects of the songs. And pretty much all of those anthems were, as might be expected, aired across the set. And, needless to say, they were all great (with the continued exception of the drippy and cliched Something Changed), but particular highs were a storming Mis-Shapes, and old favourite Babies.

The surprises continued as we got towards the end, and the inevitable climax of Common People. So the stage lighting turned appropriately red and seedy for the home, er, movie filth of This Is Hardcore – somehow made even dirtier onstage by Jarvis’s, umm…actions onstage, while Sunrise was better than I recall it being on record – but it really didn’t seem to be a track that moved the crowd a great deal. But then, for me, We Love Life was an album that is frankly entirely unnecessary in the Pulp canon, and it was no surprise that it was ignored to this degree.

A lovely parting touch was the middle-of-the-night comedown of Bar Italia getting an airing – after all, a song that could only have come out of life in London, and Hyde Park nowadays is probably about as close to it as Pulp could possibly get, anyway. I’d not heard it in some years, and I think I was as surprised as many around me that we all still knew the words. No such problem with the final parting shot of Common People, mind: I’d have thought that Pulp were sick of playing it by now, but there is no way any crowd would allow them not to play a song of that stature. Pulp hit pure pop perfection with this song, a snarling attack at the class system that really did hit the bullseye – and judging on the gusto that it was sung along with, most of the crowd agreed with the sentiment.

So, years on: Pulp, still the snarky outsiders, but enjoying one more chance at the limelight. A band who truly worked for their fame, for the success, without a great deal of assistance from the “industry” for so long – and you can’t say they didn’t deserve what came their way. A band who did things the old-school way, that are still loved like this? In this era of instant downloads and apparently instant success (and failure), we truly won’t see their likes again. And if this reunion is a fleeting one, I’ll miss them all the more when they are gone again.

Leave a Reply