Early into their Oct. 22 concert, the Toronto-based punk rock band PUP halted their performance; lead singer Stefan Babcock pointed to the mosh pit and said a few words to the sold-out crowd at Corona Theatre.
“Someone lost a shoe,” Babcock said. “Whose shoe is that?”
The shoe found its way to its rightful owner, passed between the grimy claws of sweaty teens.
“Great teamwork,” Babcock added. “This next song is about doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. And because it’s a PUP song, it’s also about being a miserable piece of shit.”
The band launched into their song “See You at Your Funeral” off their latest album Morbid Stuff. The energy in the venue was palpable. Heads nodded to the rhythm all night; it was a punk show after all.
But, this particular moment felt like an apt description of the band: Within and beyond their musical endeavours, PUP aims to foster inclusive spaces. Before starting their set, they asked fans in the mosh pit to help each other up if they fell, and, outside of their concert, they even partnered with a local legal defense fund for Indigenous peoples, RAVEN, to give back to the community. On stage, the band lead loud, angsty, and cathartic sing-alongs. From the moment they took the stage following their opening act, the Montreal punk quartet NOBRO, the boys of PUP owned the night with their determined demeanour.
The band breezed through a selection of songs off Morbid Stuff, as well as deeper cuts from past releases. A particular standout punctuated a halfway point in their set: Babcock led the crowd in a singalong of “Scorpion Hill.” The song features some of their most narratively-focused lyrics: Its bleak story of a man who struggles to get his life in order is darkly funny.
Bathed in a simple green light, Babcock and the band began with the country-guitar twang and harmonies—the song begins almost ballad-like. About a minute into the track, the punk pace and heavy guitar riffs kicked in, and fans returned to moshing.
Alongside the loud guitars and drum beats, the band’s stage presence includes clever, dry repartee with each other and the crowd. Babcock and guitarist Steve Sladkowski tried their hand at speaking French, with Babcock using Sladkowski’s love of the Toronto Raptors basketball team as a talking point.
“Tu aimes les Raptors,” Babcock said.
“J’aime les champions,” Sladkowski said, wearing his favourite team’s jersey on stage, reminding his bandmate of the team’s championship victory.
PUP went from song to song with crowd-pleasing ease, until their least popular declaration of the night, when they announced that they didn’t do encores. Babcock said that since it had been a while since they had performed a Montreal headlining show, he felt that he had to explain himself. There are two reasons bands do encores, he explained: One is to pee (PUP claim they sweat it all out on stage) and the other is to do cocaine (they don’t).
With that on the table, Babcock informed the crowd that there were two more songs before the night was over. PUP performed the first two tracks from their 2016 album The Dream is Over: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP.” The two seamlessly transitioned together—not only do the softly plucked strings which introduce “If This Tour” build into a boisterous transition to the anger invoked in “DVP,” the songs also thematically click, emblematic of the larger PUP oeuvre. The songs evoke coming-of-age and finding-of-place, displeasure and anger, and their tough lyrics come from a seemingly heartful place. As Babcock yelled his way through the first of these final two songs, one lyric stood out, echoing the sentiment of the earlier mosh pit moment:
“Why can’t we just get along?”