Live in London 1991
published: 27 /
Patchy, but touching and ultimately compelling live album from Pulp, recorded before their chart success, at the Town and Country Club in London in 1991
Gertrude Stein said of Picasso’s early avant-garde work that: “When you make a thing, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly.” She also said he was a genius. 'Party Clowns' strikes a similar chord, and makes the same argument for its creator’s talent. The pleasure of this patchy live album lies not in harmony or familiarity, but in witnessing the birth pangs of art.
As with actual childbirth, this is a dubious privilege. The audience at London’s Town and Country Club sounds nonplussed. Their applause is polite and you can imagine some bemused whispers. “Playing a concert is a bit like going out with a girl… if we give something and you give something back it’s like making love. Shagging. But if we give something out and nothing comes back that’s called necrophilia,” Jarvis Cocker goads the crowd, halfway through 'Legendary Girlfriend.' “There might be some Goths in this evening, but I’m not into that. I want it for real.”
Cocker’s outbursts are the most interesting thing on the record, which includes the title track from the 1992 album 'Separations' (a dark, brittle tune that sounds like someone swinging on a creaky gate during a hookah party in limbo) and the bad acid trip at a funfair that is 'Love Is Blind'. Part of the problem is the quality. Live recording did no favours to Pulp’s penchant for bedsit electronica which, despite their affection for house music, evokes fork tines scraping a baked bean tin rather than lasers shooting through the cosmos.
Despite the scratchy sound, there are flashes of the Pulp we came to know and adore. 'Live On' sees Jarvis play the defiant, jilted lover claiming: “I’m going to last another day without your love.” Then confessing: “I tried to play some records but they’re all singing about you.” This is fertile emotional territory for him, as evidenced by the most satisfying cut here, an early version of the hit, 'Babies'.
For all its flaws, 'Party Clowns' is a touching slice of musical history. By the time it was recorded Jarvis and co. had been hard at work for nearly a decade and chart success was still years in the future. For all they knew this was the biggest gig they’d ever play. It is Cocker’s palpable passion, angst and self-deprecating cynicism that make this so moving. As he puts it, while introducing 'Legendary Girlfriend': “This is only going to happen this one time…. We’re never all going to be in the same place together again are we? Don’t you think that makes it a bit special?”
Death II (Live)
Live On (Live)
Love Is Blind (Live)
Legendary Girlfriend (Live)