Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory offers the perfect stage for the JARV…IS ensemble, acting as host and multiplier of their seedy, backstreet neon. All limbs and libido, the icon is unmistakable, and instantly enraptures.
She’s a Lady, the night’s opener and sole Pulp number, serves up verve, shimmy and strut atop urgent violins. it’s hard to recall a more effective entrance, and it is one in which the depth of Jarvis’s vocal versatility is exhibited in full frontal glory. With it, decades blur.
It would be amiss to say the 58-year old Cocker has lost nothing with age. Certainly nothing is missing, rather he inhabits his skin – throwing that spidery skeleton through a staccato, sexed-up semaphore – with an ease and comfort gained through maturity. The misfit is now maestro, world-wise and wizardly.
Treated to the near entirety of last year’s stellar Beyond the Pale, the crowd is involved throughout; at times beckoned into call and response (the pulsating Must I Evolve?), at others wilful extras in anecdotes, serving up space for the showman to punctuate with punchline or dry aside.
We move from prophetic, residential rave (House Music All Night Long) to would-be terrace anthem (Cunts Are Still Running the World) via the vibe of ‘An Evening With…’, that ellipsis under the constant whim and control of the gangly ringmaster.
Hopping genres and traversing tempos, the band are cool and cohesive, by synth or by string providing a platform for Cocker’s poetry. In this guise, as dive-bar bard, Jarvis is perhaps at his most beguiling.
The sparse, brooding highlight, Am I Missing Something demonstrates that, even in the midst of approaching apocalypse, sex is still on the brain: ‘Standing on the brink of extinction/Laughing all the way to the bank/Taking leave of earthly temptations (yeah, right)/This body’s a temporary home/This body wants to take your body home.’
Latest single, Swanky Modes, a whispered kitchen-worktop tryst, has a lounging, filmic groove, echoing Pulp’s This Is Hardcore. There are shades here, in Jarvis’s voice, of Leonard Cohen’s gravelled allure, but it is in his command of space and timing where the comparisons ring most true. Both this and the semi-robotic Sometimes I Am Pharaoh play with the build, pregnant pause and drop that Cocker has made a signature. Onlookers are first hypnotised, then crazed.
2006’s Running the World has a case as the greatest protest song of its age, distilling contemporary class war into plain-speaking prose: ‘In theory I respect your right to exist/I will kill you if you move in next to me’. Between songs, Jarvis flirts, regales, and scatters grapes, chocolates and hilarity into the audience like confetti. It’s a love-in, but less Laurel Canyon, and more 4am on a smoky sofa, arm around a mate you haven’t seen in ages.
As the encore winds from the stoned, spacey Children of The Echo to stomper Further Complications, the crowd gasp at Cocker’s masterful control of the microphone. Mantis-like, he looms, pick-pocketing himself for more seductive silhouettes. The variety show closes with Aline – a taste of French pop covers album Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top – and great appreciation from the floor for their raving, ageless raconteur.
He is not Jesus, but he has the same initials. Tonight, he is both messiah and (still) very naughty boy.
JARV IS… play Glasgow on 11th November, and Sheffield on the 12th
Beyond the Pale is available now on CD, vinyl and download.