The Jarvis Cocker approved Extinction Rebellion stall outside Leith Theatre is doing great business before the man himself comes wiggling through the red mist, throwing shapes on a centre-stage platform like a living statue. With his backside stuck out, Cocker gazes into a mirror for the opening Pharaoh, his string-bean frame and 1970s perma-brown threads cast in a heroic hue.
“Have you taken Leith of your senses?” Cocker asks wryly once he’s done by way of introduction to his latest concept. He quotes from Claude Debussy, born on the same date as the gig in 1862, and peppers his between-song banter with further bon mots from fellow celebrants, including Dorothy Parker, John Lee Hooker, Carson McCullers and Ray Bradbury.
The glam racket of Further Complications gives way to the Can-like groove of Children of the Echo, the song’s mythological intent aided by the celestial backing vocals of harpist Serafina Steer and violinist Emma Smith. With Cocker’s former cohort in Relaxed Muscle, Jason Buckle, on keyboards alongside bassist Andrew McKinney and drummer Adam Betts, the short-lived duo’s back catalogue gets a show with Mary. Like Big Julie, which comes later, the song is laid bare as a kind of northern English chanson, knee-deep in melodrama and absurdist hysteria.
The diabolical gallop of this year’s Must I Evolve single casts Cocker as a deadpan Hamlet, with Steer and Smith’s nagging “yes, yes, yes, yes” chorus egging him on alongside Smith’s frantic fiddle. A mirror ball shines down for In My Eyes, a Bidduesque inner city disco homage that bridges slow dance smooch and Proustian ennui. House Music too captures the clubland contradictions of solitary torpor and collective euphoria.
Running The World is an even more necessary anthem for the common people than it was when it first appeared more than a decade ago, while Pulp’s His n Hers sees Cocker throwing sweets into the crowd and going walkabout to offer balms of wisdom for troubled times. A final Elvis Has Left the Building acknowledges his own guru-like status, confirming once and for all how the geek may yet inherit the earth.
The Herald, August 23rd 2019