By Lee Duran
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Go see your favorite band play live.
If it’s a bit of a drive, if tickets are a little more than you want to pay, if the concert falls on a weekday and it seems like too much of a hassle, if you feel too old to be going to concerts -- don’t let that any of that stop you.
Favorite bands are like old family members. They can go at anytime, and the opportunity to see them may be lost to you forever.
Lacking wisdom about almost every other facet of life, this is the best and most truthful advice I feel qualified to impart to anyone. I held this opinion before I saw Pulp live in San Francisco last week, but watching the band’s 48-year-old frontman, Jarvis Cocker, make vigorous love to a parade of phantom shapes on stage for two hours certainly reinforced its veracity.
I had read the legendary Britpop band reunited for some gigs last year, and I vowed if they ever came to the United States, where they hadn’t played since 1998, I would see them regardless of where or when they played. Weeks passed and 2011 turned into 2012 with no U.S. dates scheduled.
Then I discovered I had lied to myself. Because when it was announced in January that Pulp would headline one of the nights at Coachella, I didn’t even try to buy tickets.
This, I should note, is my sole exception to the maxim stated above: Huge outdoor festivals are for the children still unafraid of portable toilets and standing for hours with their noses in the bare, unwashed armpit of the person in front of them.
But when Pulp announced a handful of shows in San Francisco and New York City bookending their Coachella performance, I pounced. The show sold out in minutes, and the tickets I managed to snag through a coordinated effort with six other people weren’t the best seats in the house.
But they were good enough. I was seeing Pulp!
I realize this thrilling retelling of how I managed to buy tickets to see my favorite band may not have you on the edge of your seat with beads of sweat popping on your forehead. But that’s kind of my point. To me, this was epic stuff.
I was going to see a band I’d loved since I was 15 years old, and why this feels important sounds silly when trying to describe it. It’s like trying to voice the reasoning behind your favorite color.
I can say when I was screaming every word to “Disco 2000,” I could still remember it being the first Pulp song I ever heard, found on some compilation I got for free with a pair of American Eagle Outfitters cargo shorts. I played that song a hundred times, its opening krum-krum-krum guitar riff irreparably worn into my brain.
When the band launched into the class anthem “Mis Shapes,” one of the few overtly political songs I like, I remembered playing it in my English class my senior year at Joplin High School to the indifference of my classmates. And I could remember buying the “Different Class” CD, off of which I played “Mis Shapes,” at the old Book Barn.
And the three songs Pulp played off “This Is Hardcore”? Oh man É I don’t know why gloomy pop songs about ennui, mid-life crisis and the myriad ways sex can excite, ruin or humiliate you resonated so much with me at 17, but to this day it remains my favorite album of all time.
I could try to explain to you why the show was flawless, how the band’s deep bench for great songs allowed for a setlist that never lagged even if -- or perhaps because -- they didn’t play nearly all the songs I wanted from “This Is Hardcore” and their final album “We Love Life,” the way Cocker’s stage persona of a charmingly skeevy libertine uncle is endlessly entertaining, how accomplished the band is at letting the personal, narrative songs breathe and ratcheting-up the pop anthems, especially when they’re the same song.
But it wouldn’t be how I experienced the show. My experience was closer to a sustained and uncritical euphoria primed by years of living with these songs until they were a fundamental part of who I am.
At the show I discovered I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, either. The 2,000 other people shouting every lyric got it, too.
And that’s a great feeling, the give and take in energy between the stage and the audience, losing your mind for a couple hours with a bunch of strangers, each one focusing their adulation in the same direction. The emotional response is maximized when you know and cherish every song the band is playing, even more so if the band is charismatic.
It’s an old and distinctly human experience. I imagine it’s why some people go to church every Sunday.
But my point remains. Go see your favorite band live.