Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
I don’t know if it’s the jetlag or the fact that it’s light until 10PM in the summer, but European rock festivals are just the best; Lost weekends that start as debauched drug-and-booze-fueled bacchanals and end as post-apocalyptic lawn galas in which everyone gets naked, laid and covered in mud. Glastonbury kicked off the British summer festival season a few weeks ago, but I showed up in London in time for the Wireless Festival, which takes place in the middle of the city in Hyde Park, and works as a sort of training session (keep the liver limber) for Reading and Leeds, held in August. Only in the UK would the season’s intermission rock fest feature a lineup including the Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars, Ke$ha, TV on the Radio, Chemical Brothers and a closing-night headlining set by the recently-reunited Pulp.
What always cracks me up about England is the Brits equal commitment to politeness and debauchery. At the massive tented entryway to the Wireless stage, I was apologized to, gently patted down and maternally advised that I should stay hydrated as London was in the middle of a heat wave. (It was like, 75 Fahrenheit, maybe.) Within ten minutes of walking the grounds, I saw a ruddy-faced guy in cargo shorts projectile vomit into a nearby trash can, then merrily go on drinking his lager.
The bar at Wireless is set up like a milking station for cattle. Herded by a good-natured dude with a megaphone, you shuffle through a maze of barricades and let out en mass to shove for a spot at the counter, where you shout out your order and try not to touch the sticky booze-soaked, Astroturf-covered slab of a bar. Armed with beers, I pushed through throngs of loaded Brits to my cluster of friends in front of the stage to wait for Jarvis Cocker. Finally, the curtain dropped, revealing the whole band, Cocker in a suit and his signature glasses, backed by giant Lite-Brite letters spelling P-U-L-P. As a proud anglophile, I’d actively pined for a Pulp reunion since the early 2000s, when they stopped making records and touring. But my thrill at seeing the band onstage again, and hearing the opening notes of songs like “This Is Hardcore” and “Disco 2000,” pales in comparison to the overwhelming zeal of real live British humans who were just losing their shit.
To my right, a beautiful blonde boy in smears of black eyeliner and sailor stripes, sang along and pumped his fist like a bro. To my left, a girl in a tiny tank top and sparkly Converse danced madly, her limbs like weapons, bashing into those around her. Not that anyone cared. As the band kicked into “Bar Italia,” a caravan of girls made their way through the crowd, carrying a full pitcher of red sangria, smiling graciously as they wove their way to the crowd epicenter. “Anybody married?” Cocker asked the crowd to an array of scattered cheers. “Or just fancy getting off with somebody?” which earned an enthusiastic roar.
Not prepared for the mass orgy that seemed imminent, I began making my way out of the pit and towards the outskirts of the crowd. I found a new spot next to a cluster of families — young, creamy-skinned couples with toddlers, wide-eyed and grinning between giant pastel orbs of ear-protectors. It was late but still light out as the band launched into the one everyone was waiting for: “Common People.” In the never-ending golden hour of a long and languid English summer evening, this erudite rock band, with a lead singer who cracks onstage jokes about everyone from Julian Assange to Franz Kafka, brought us all up to their level. With Jarvis back, to be common is to be great.