Jarvis Cocker / July 30, 2009 / Brooklyn, N.Y. (Music Hall of Williamsburg)
Part of what dates British Invasion-era footage, besides the black-and-white film stock, is the high-pitched hysteria that artists elicited from otherwise rational grown-ups. But there are still a handful of magnetic artists who manage to turn middle-aged men and women into shrieking schoolgirls, and Britpop icon Jarvis Cocker is one of them.
When the former Pulp frontman released his second solo album, "Further Complications," in May, fans eagerly awaited the announcement of U.S. tour dates. Sadly, the summer trek only included stops in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with Thursday night's (July 30) Manhattan show subsequently moved to a notably more intimate Brooklyn venue. Anticipation built during sound check delays kept ticket-holders on the street well past the 9 p.m. start time, so by the time delightful tropical garage pop trio Little Joy finished its opening set and Cocker took the stage, the frantic squealing was reaching a fever pitch.
Cocker has worked with most of his current band, including former Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, for a while. But everything about his latest show emphasizes that he is the star (as he explained to Billboard in May, he never plays Pulp songs with his solo band because "they just wouldn't sound right"). The band dressed in all-black and never strayed from the shadows, while Cocker glowed in a light tan suit and center spotlight all evening.
As the band looped the riff for opener and "Further Complications" first single "Angela," Cocker encouraged heightened screeching among the crowd by attempting to guess female fans' names with his "magic eyes" -- eyeballs drawn on his palms with magic marker. Other stage banter resembled foreplay, like when Cocker paused between "Big Julie" (from solo debut "Jarvis") and the pseudo-apologetic word-player "I Never Said I Was Deep" to take grapes from his pockets and toss them into audience members' mouths.
Much of Cocker's appeal is counterintuitive: the way he turns towering, awkward lankiness into irresistibility. Case in point is Cocker's signature pantomime -- a constant energetic choreography that echoes lyrics, flails indiscriminately, and poses coyly without self-consciousness. During surf-dancer "Pilcher," Cocker entreated the audience to follow his moves for the title dance, which it seemed he very well could have been making up on the spot (not that anyone would have cared).
But more than just a vivacious showman, Cocker is also an accomplished songwriter (he lectures on the topic worldwide), and his live interpretation of some of his more personal compositions -- such as midlife come-on "Leftovers" and the heart-bearing "Slush" -- were his mesmerizing best.
Here's to hoping he makes good on rumors of a fall return.