PUP – Live at 7th St. Entry – 6/3/16 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
by Steven Spoerl
Last Friday night, Minneapolis’ famed 7th St. Entry played host to a powerful bill that included three bands who have earned coverage on this site: Charly Bliss, Rozwell Kid, and PUP. The three and a half hour drive out to catch the show had been a foregone conclusion since its announcement and a large part of that decision had been the involvement of Charly Bliss, who opened the show. Ever since the band topped this site’s list for EP’s in 2014 with their best-of-decade contender, Soft Serve, they’ve been covered and endorsed relentlessly in these pages. One of the most unavoidable factors in ensuring that heavy focus was their overpowering strength as a live act.
Over the past several years, the band’s been meticulously tweaking their stage show and seeing their dedication paying a steadily increasing number of dividends. They’re an extremely dynamic act making exceptionally well-crafted basement pop that comes with a serious bite, despite the immediate sugary high that it so frequently induces. Guitarist/vocalist Eva Hendricks is (understandably) the focal point of their live show, operating as a bundle of joyous squeals that can’t be contained for longer than a few seconds at a time.
All of the band feeds off of her example and put their heart into the kind of showmanship that clearly underlines that they have a legitimate love for playing music. No one’s overshadowed and everyone seems like they’re continuously out to prove something that they couldn’t accomplish with just a music-related degree (something that’s been acquired by all four members). A handful of recognizable favorites were brought out into the set — including recent single “Ruby” — but the real power was derived from a trio of brand-new tunes.
The band’s been sitting on a collection of songs for well over a year that’s more than enough to constitute a great album (an album that they hope to have out sometime in the relatively near future) so to see them confidently surging ahead with even more material is a great sign that the various delays in release haven’t left them deterred. On the contrary, those delays seem to have set something off in the band that makes them even more eager to obliterate the slowly-forming expectations surrounding their eventual debut. After yet another set that was constantly on the crest of perfection, the question no longer rests with whether or not the band will have their breakout moment, the question is when that moment will come.
Playing in the wake of such an explosive act can be a daunting task but Rozwell Kid seemed more than up to the challenge (and have had a long history playing intimidating bills) and they stuck to their formula: conjure up some propulsion by blending recognizable recent influences with over-the-top stage theatrics that go back a little further, all the while maintaining ear-shattering volume. While the constant mugging, windmills, rock poses, and general mugging from the band’s bassist and lead guitarist could be slightly off-putting at times, the other half of the band kept things relatively grounded to create a weirdly compelling contrast effect.
Every bit of the band’s theatrical gimmickry was balanced out, at one point or the other, by something that felt more genuine than showy from one of the band’s less complacent members. At times, the physicality of the theatrics largely overshadowed the band’s music, which veered from Guitar Hero-aping classic rock stompers to numbers that felt more indebted to a surprisingly unexplored space between late-era Replacements and early-era Weezer. Even with all of the additional Rock God 101 bells and whistles, Rozwell Kid never inspired active boredom and wound up being a very strong connecting bridge between the spiked-punch rush of Charly Bliss and the no-holds-barred chaos that PUP was about to set off.
The fourth article that ever ran on Heartbreaking Bravery — and the very first album review — centered on PUP’s self-titled record, immediately after it was released in Canada. The band had just recently changed their name from Topanga, put out a music video that would begin a shocking dominance in that format, and weren’t anywhere close to breaking through stateside (that would come well over a year later). In the time that followed those events, I tried and failed to see the band on multiple occasions. A perfect combination of circumstances positioned me at the lip of the Entry’s stage, anxiously anticipating what would become one of the most formidable displays of angst-powered aggression I’ve ever witnessed.
PUP, the band’s official debut full-length, impressed a whole lot of people and led to an ever-expanding cast of die-hard fans. This year’s outstanding The Dream Is Over didn’t just aid that trend, it increased its velocity tenfold. One of the best punk records in years, the record played a large role in selling out the Entry and packing it to the brim with a cast of characters (that ranged an impressive spectrum), who seemed hell-bent on throwing down. All it took was the intro of “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” to get things started.
Literally less than thirty seconds into PUP’s set, the entire main floor of 7th St. Entry became a thriving pit of chaos, unchecked aggression, and intense camaraderie. Guitarist/vocalist (and principal songwriter) Stefan Babcock would later reveal to me that in those moments, the crowd established his ideal for an audience: rowdy to the point of violence but never crossing the threshold into a territory that made its participants afraid. That mode never ceased for what was over an hour of blistering anthems about self-doubt, self-loathing, anger, regret, fear, and loss.
In the first five minutes alone, Babcock asked if the audience was alright on three separate occasions, unable to suppress a grin as the audience grew increasingly out of control. After “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” bled into “DVP”, just as it does on the record (easily 2016’s best moment of sequencing on record), I was forced up onto the stage, clinging to a PA for dear life while attempting to maintain enough balance to shoot/film the show. Not long after, the show was stopped so that an audience member could look for their glasses. A “very busted” pair made their way up to the stage but turned out to belong to an entirely separate owner. Later, a single show made its way up to the stage and the show was stopped once more. Glasses: repeat.
A handful of songs into their set, Babcock could sense that the crowd’s insane levels of aggression weren’t going to wane and instructed everyone on the rules of a “Canadian mosh pit”, which mostly just amounts to apologizing to anyone you touch. It was the first of two Canadian-themed jokes of the night, with an endearing crack later on about how “no one wants to hear four white Canadians cover Prince”, following a very sincere expression of gratitude over being able to play in a space that was The Purple One’s de facto home.
Immediately after that announcement, PUP hit the highlight of the night in a searing, volatile run through “Old Wounds” that saw Babcock leaping into a stage dive while still screaming his brains out. Unsurprisingly, “Old Wounds” wound up amplifying the audience’s energy, allowing both band and audience to feed off each other in a state of total symbiosis. Each propelled the other forward to the point of near-exhaustion, loving every single moment of collision that the relationship generated on either side.
Every shout-a-long became a scream-a-long and every riff, snare hit, and Cheshire Cat grin took on additional meaning as the band ripped through what’s already an astonishing arsenal of songs only two full-lengths into their career: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”, “DVP”, “Dark Days”, “Lionheart”, “Familiar Patterns”, “Old Wounds”, “Factories”, “Yukon”, “Mabu”, “Guilt Trip”, and “Reservoir” all earned particularly strong reactions, while the audience used brief moments of the songs that came between to re-position, reset, and resume their wild-eyed thrashing.
“Reservoir”, the band’s final song, left everyone scrambling for extra breaths as they screamed, writhed on the stage, flung themselves off the rafters of the Entry’s ceiling into crowd-surfing the mosh pit, or — in the case of one fan — laid flat on the stage, screaming into a microphone that Babcock brought down to his level so that they could share in one of the evening’s final defining moments. As they screamed into the mic together, the communal aesthetic of the night solidified even further and the barrier separating band from artist was temporarily lifted so that everyone could truly be in it together.
Through the whole ordeal, like Charly Bliss at the start of the night, PUP wore their feelings with pride; no moment in the show looked like anything less than a moment that meant something to the band on a very real, personal level. After the smoke from the scintillating run through “Reservoir” cleared, the band would lean over the lip of the stage to embrace the battered front lines, shake their hands, give them high-fives, and mouth “thanks” repeatedly. Babcock would express this throughout the night in repeated asides of affectionate expletives and stunned exclamations, gazing out over the crowd like the band had found a new home that they never wanted to leave.
Watch live videos from each of the bands sets below (including some very shaky PUP captures) and underneath the embed, view an extensive photo gallery of the show. Enjoy.
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