UK independent pop is known for churning out some of the most iconic and enigmatic frontpersons in music. From Morrissey to Damon Albarn, Joe Strummer to Ari Up, a stand-out personality is developed over there as a necessary part of the band. Possibly none of these stand out beyond their band more than Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. By the sixth song in the band’s set at their Radio City show this week, Cocker had scaled the left of the massive venue close to the lowest balcony and led the crowd in a dance intro to “Disco 2000”. By “This Is Hardcore” later in the set, he had gyrated his way into the arms of the right side of the space nearing the balcony yet again. It was clear he was going to find his way around as much of the venue as would be permitted. This rejection of barriers between audience and performer does not come off with Cocker the way it does with punk bands. It seems clumsily forward and adorable, cartoonish and charming. This act runs through the veins of a Pulp live show and sets it all the higher for how enjoyable it is watching him cavort about.
In the US for the first time since the late ’90s, Pulp, in a close-to “Different Class” formation, played a set heavy on that album, only featuring three tracks from “His ‘n’ Hers”, and a pair each from “This Is Hardcore” and “We Love Life”. “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” saw the band accompanied by a dance troupe as the show reached its most dynamic moments as the super-quiet verses led into the super-loud choruses of the track. The show was most effective when Jarvis was not restrained by having a guitar strapped on him, and was free to roam about the stage. “Common People” came towards the end and while it didn’t feel anything like I imagine Glastonbury ‘95 feeling, it was nice to hear the old band running through the old hits. They ended the show on “Mis-Shapes”, dedicating the track to the mid-’00s NY dance night that got its name from the song. They tore through the last song of the night like a band that never went away. Before their breakup Pulp had been a band in various lineups for over two decades. Another reunion show in NY this week was headlined by a band that was around for under two years, recorded only a handful of tracks and has even now, played under ten shows.
Black Tambourine was announced as the headliner to seminal punk zine Chickfactor’s twentieth anniversary shows. Vocalist Pam Berry along with Gail O’Hara started the zine in 1992 and the writing quickly took precedence over the music as Black Tambourine called it quits so Berry could focus more on developing Chickfactor. I first heard Black Tambourine in high school while sinking deeper into local bands that had existed decades before in the same subculture I was involved in. They were an elusive band to me, one that I never imagined seeing play, one that I would always hold near to my Montgomery County, MD heart. Then with the onslaught of bands like Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls finding popularity and attributing their sound to Black Tambourine, there came a greater demand for these songs to be heard. The eBay value for their 7”s shot up, and Slumberland pressed up a compilation of all their tracks. A reunion, albeit a short-lived one, was inevitable.
Pam Berry took to the stage at Brooklyn’s Bell House and began the set with a dedication to her writing partner O’Hara saying she was the only one who could convince Berry to perform again. The band sounded loose and unfit for live shows, exactly as they did on record. Layered in noise coming from a small Fender combo amp, a drumset without a bass drum, and a static vocalist, the band played a set that covered just about everything in their catalog. Placing “For Ex-Lovers Only” first on the setlist served as both a gift and a curse since it sent the crowd into a frenzy early on but also gave up the best song first. Suicide cover “Dream Baby Dream” was introduced as a Bruce Springsteen cover since he too has covered the song at some point in the last twenty years of Black Tambourine not being a band. The set chugged along, at some points dragging even though it in total clocked in at under forty minutes. Ballad “Black Car” left some teary eyes, and closer “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” sent the room bopping about in its relationship revenge fantasy turned pop song that this style of music does so so well.
Also playing night one of the Chickfactor celebration were Small Factory, Versus, and The Lois Plus. Small Factory played the strongest set of the night. Singer and guitarist Alex Kemp (brother to Elias Arts’ composer Chris Kemp) still had the same pop-friendly voice and sensibility that made their records so accessible even outside of the immediate indie-pop world. Drummer Phoebe Summersquash was maybe the only drummer of the night qualified to be playing anything other than indie-pop as she kept consistency and held the band together and tight in their first show in seventeen years. They are one reunited band I could see still writing together and releasing material worth checking out. The chemistry was all still there and maybe it was just because it was their first show in seventeen years, but there I saw zero sign of burnout status. Lois Maffeo and Heavenly guitarist Peter Momtchiloff played a short set at the start of the night as The Lois Plus. Lois played a few tracks from her first band Courtney Love with “Motorcycle Boy” being the highlight. It was a nice run through the Lois years, and its half-hour running time was just enough time to pack in exactly what the crowd wanted.
One of the coolest things about this show was the attentiveness of the crowd throughout the night. Hardly anyone left the room between bands, and all was quiet with no iPhones in sight. It would be even nicer if current bands were attracting this kind of seemingly magical concentration, but baby steps I suppose. I did feel kind of guilty for attending so many reunion shows this week with no shows of active writing bands. It seemed though that most of the audience was there for the present-day enjoyment and not nostalgia as many reunion shows serve to exist for. As long as it’s good now and not just a look back, then it’s still something worth getting excited over. This whole decade-long reunion craze has to be coming to a close. I mean who is even left to comeback, really?