Concert + New Music Review: PUP at Death by Audio: December 12, 2013
Last week I introduced Toronto punk band PUP in my list of 45 songs of 2013, linking to their single “Reservoir“. On Thursday night, thanks to the folks at Brooklyn Vegan and Exploding In Sound Records, I got to see PUP live as part of a “punky, all ages holiday show” that also included Brooklyn garage punk band Slow Warm Death, Slothrust, Brooklyn punks Chumped and Dischord Records “supergroup” Alarms and Controls.
To be fair to the other bands I have to admit that I went to the tiny East Williamsburg venue on this freezing winter night for only one reason – to see PUP. If you haven’t heard of them yet (and perhaps you did but didn’t recognize them, as they previously went by the name Topanga), you should. PUP played for a crowd of only about 40-50 people, but I predict that their shows will be getting larger and larger very soon. This band has everything you need to take it to the next level. The music is loud, fast, and has the kind of hooks that get a crowd jumping. In addition to “Reservoir”, one of my favorite songs from their first and only album thus far is “Back Against the Wall”, another raging ball of energy. PUP’s music is reminiscent of other better-known indie punk rock bands that I’ve mentioned on this site before, such as Wavves and Surfer Blood, and I can see no reason why they shouldn’t be playing venues at least as large as those bands do.
Besides the excellent music, PUP has the intangibles that make a good rock band.On stage you can tell that the band get along well, and it translates into the way they play together. Lead singer Stefan Babcock is small and wiry but his slight size are betrayed by his powerful voice and his demonstrative way of jumping and dancing all over the stage. Babcock knows exactly what’s expected of a front-man, taking over as needed but also giving his talented bandmates their opportunities to shine, and while he doesn’t waste time with endless banter, he did have one or two clever lines for the crowd. (“This is our only love song. It’s about my car.”)
Unlike many punk bands, PUP showed their real talent by not relying solely on noise. Towards the second half of their set they covered a song by Jay Reatard (sorry, I don’t know the song’s name) and followed it up by the slowest, longest and most mesmerizing of the songs on their self-titled debut, “Yukon”. During Yukon, the last song PUP played before exploding into Reservoir,I found myself lost in the sound, forgetting about my surroundings, the people around me, and any sense of time. This is the hallmark of a truly great song – the live listener gets completely lost inside of it. PUP raised their playing to that level, which is why I believe they’ll be recognized as a special band.
Finally, it must be mentioned – these guys are really nice and down to earth. I had a chance to speak with both Babcock and guitarist Steve Sladkowski after the show and both were not only willing to take their time with me, a random fan, but to just hang out and talk music like pals. These are the kinds of people you want to root for.
Listeners are already on to PUP. Back in September, Stereogum named them a band to watch. One Canadian reviewer called them the best new band in Canada. Until last week the band was only signed in Canada, on Royal Mountain Records (the label that boasts another favorite of mine, Hollerado), but just got picked up in the US under L.A.-based Side One Dummy. With a European tour coming up and the album being released in the U.S. soon, you should be hearing a lot about PUP sooner rather than later. I recommend seeing them in a tiny Brooklyn venue while you still can.
In the meantime, listen to two of their songs, Reservoir and Lionheart, below. Or read about their show the very next night in Ottawa, from another enthused fan.