PUP | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
PUP and pals rage on a rainy Friday at Franklin Music Hall
The Toronto punk favorites played their biggest Philly show to date on Friday night, and they brought a heavy-hitting lineup with them.
It’s cause for excitement any time a PUP tour rolls through town. The Toronto punk rock four piece has been hard at work for over a decade, sharpening their skill as a live band — which was already pretty damn sharp when we saw frontperson Stefan Babcock climb the walls at Golden Tea House in 2014 — and amassing a fervent following on the way.
They have hooks that’ll stick in your head for days, technical chops that will make your jaw drop (shoutouts to the workhorse rhythm section of bassist Nestor Chumak and drummer Zack Mykula), and a know-when-to-disregard-the-rulebook approach that’s liberating (the pendulum of lead guitarist Steve Sladkowski’s solos swings between dazzling skill and uninhibited discord). And the fans that have coalesced around the band is an odd mix of pandemonium and concern; this is a crowd that, broadly speaking, will gleefully draw you into the ever-present circle pit, but will promptly course-correct if they realize that, no, you don’t actually want to be there. For a band whose music is fatalistic but also full of life, it couldn’t make any more sense.
Their current tour, though, is particularly special. It’s in support of their great new record The Unraveling of PUPTheBand, it’s their first time on the road since before the pandemic, it finds them playing their biggest venues to date — like Franklin Music Hall on a cold and rainy Friday night — and the lineup is stacked, with dynamic Baltimore emo outfit Pinkshift opening the show, followed by Philly’s Sheer Mag. They call it the Thank Fucking God tour, and I wholeheartedly concur.
As the soggy crowd filed inside, Pinkshift stormed onstage and opened the night with a knockout eight-song set. Frontperson Ashrita Kumar paced and pivoted, spun and sprinted from side to side of the stage as they sang cathartic lyrics to the band’s math-y complexity. With arcs of guitar and drums, and towering melodies, Pinkshift presented a refreshing revival of aughties emo energy; think Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and Riot!. “Ever feel angry and you don’t know why?” Kumar asked the crowd at one point. “And then you start CRYING?! Me too. This is for us.” And they launched terrifically into “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying.”
Back on their home turf, Sheer Mag shone during their 30 minutes in the stage lights. Compared to the acrobatic act that had just gone before them, the retro-punk five-piece seemed relatively stationary, and not as chatty — and that’s totally okay. One approach does not supersede the other, and no one present would dispute that Tina Halladay worked the crowd like an absolute badass to the punchy opener “Steel Sharpens Steel” or the back-catalog fave “Expect The Bayonet,” or that Kyle Seely’s 70s-dipped solos on “Fan The Flames” ruled. And the banter we got was funny! “I can see everything you’re doing, and you guys are fuckin’ weird,” said Hallady. “This one guy doesn’t even know he’s at a show.”
“The lost and found is open,” Sladkowski joked with the crowd as stray garments lost in the fray began making their way onstage, beginning with somebody’s dripping wet shirt — and at that point in the night it was unclear whether it was wet from rain, sweat, or both. “Thank you for showing up with Friday night energy, fuck yeah.” With springboard level jumps and rushes to the barricade to hold their instruments out to the crowd, the band clearly did the same.
Opening the set the way Unraveling opens — the ironically melancholic piano ballad “Four Chords” right into the heart-racing “Totally Fine” — we quickly saw how well the new songs sat alongside PUP’s back catalog. “Guilt Trip” from their 2013 self-titled debut plowed into the catchy chaos of “Free At Last” from 2019’s Morbid Stuff; a leveling “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” from 2016’s The Dream Is Over was a mid-set anchor. Note those release years, too; this isn’t a band that rushes from project to project, it moves at an every-three-years pace that makes for better and more consistent albums overall.
And in addition to featuring those albums, PUP shows can also be the scene of absurdity, like Babcock and Sladkowski playing the “Hotel California” outro note for note in the middle of “Matilda.” “I’ve been practicing that solo for 15 years,” said Babcock. “It’s my favorite song written by cocaine.”
As the night wound down with the raging dissonance of “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy” — which Babcock told the crowd is the band’s favorite to play live on this run — it became clear that the special nature of the tour in general and the gig in specific was not lost on the band. It was their biggest Philly show to date, and Babcock several times marveled at the teeming audience in the 2,500-capacity Franklin; he says the band truly considers Philly a second home, and effusively praised PUP’s tourmates. “The four of us have taken stuff for granted in the past,” he said. “And we realize how lucky we are to get to have this opportunity.”
Pinkshift | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Franklin Music Hall
- Four Chords
- Totally Fine
- My Life Is Over and I Couldn't Be Happier
- Guilt Trip
- Free At Last
- Sleep In The Heat
- Robot Writes A Love Song
- If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will
- Scorpion Hill
- See You At Your Funeral
- Familiar Patterns
- PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy
- Morbid Stuff