The audience for this opening show of his sold-out three-night residency were handed keys for room 29 on arrival at the Barbican Theatre, which featured a bed, telephone and baby grand piano, just like the actual hotel room on Sunset Boulevard where Cocker recently stayed.
Having trundled on with his suitcase, he was accompanied by Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales for their song cycle inspired by the celebrity haunt. The Room 29 album has a sweeping melancholy, though this performance played it more for laughs.
Between songs Cocker and Gonzales sparked off each other like a long-standing double act. But their stark, intimate duets sometimes got lost amid the gimmicky set-up involving Cocker filmed in the hotel on the giant screen, as well as an aged bellboy bringing drinks on stage and a string quartet dialled up on room service.
Their surging violins mirrored the crisis of sexual dysfunction on Jean Harlow’s doomed honeymoon night, which Cocker chronicled on Bombshell. It was a tune that recalled the former Pulp singer’s character-based vignettes, while his serenading of seated fans in the fourth row during The Other Side was a glimpse of the playful pop star of old.
When Gonzales teased us with Hotel California for the encore, Cocker demurred: “We don’t do crowd-pleasing things like that.” But a few hits might have made his high-concept comeback more memorable.