To be honest, when I put the Pup show on my calendar it was because the band was peripheral to my musical tastes, not because I was a fan. While the band always seemed to be mentioned by bands I cared about, and well-reviewed by those I trusted, I've always found its recordings to be milquetoast punk. So, as I announced the show each week on the podcast, it was for someone else's benefit, not my own. Then I discovered Partner was on the bill. That was a band that interested me. Then Architects was added. That's when I mailed the publicists to tell them I was going to cover the show.
I walked into the club just before 8pm to discover a cadre of kids already lining the stage. There was no barricade for security or photographers, so I stood up front with them, plotting my camera angles, imagining that I might stay there all evening. The kids around me talked of Pup and upcoming exams, but mostly Pup. I overheard a few asking about the large Architects backdrop that hung behind the stage, but no one had heard the band before. Really? After a few minutes I surrendered to reality, and retreated to the elevated railing 30-or-so feet from the stage, thankful that I had brought my telephoto lens.
Kansas City's Architects took the stage at 8:00, kicking off its set with the most riff-heavy punk rock of its current repertoire. I wondered if the entire set list would serve as a statement of defiance, a retaliation for the way the veteran band was added to the bill at the last minute and without promotion. However, after a few songs, the driving AC/DC-styled guitars gave way to more melodic leads, and soon the hook-heavy punk loaded with singalong backing vocals brought the show to a steady equilibrium. Frontman Brandon Phillips' banter was big — a little hackneyed, but entirely appropriate, and more than welcome as it moved the young crowd from a state of potential energy into one of motion. To be brief, the band's half-hour set accomplished everything asked of an opening act. Where it would go from there was anyone's guess.
A month before the concert, I stumbled on Partner's video for "Play the Field." That song's catchy indie pop with tight harmonies and arena-rock guitars inspired me to pick up its debut album In Search of Lost Time (2017, You've Changed Records). And that album inspired me to see the band live. Sure, I liked the album, but I was also wanted to see how the duo's simple fare might play at the spacious Granada. After the aggressive set from the established openers, I was worried that it wouldn't. But as the band's JosÃ©e Caron and Lucy Niles took the stage backed by a trio of additional musicians, I began to see how it might work. When I noted that there were three guitarists, I felt pretty comfortable. When I saw Caron was wearing an AC/DC shirt, I knew everything was going to be alright.
The band's set was comprised almost entirely from its new album, with only a track or two coming from its previous cassette releases. The highlight came early in the set with stoner-anthem "Everyone Knows" — a song with such an amazing guitar lead that it is allowed to start the three-minute track, is resurrected at each chorus, is mutated into a howling solo to end the song, and is still not featured enough. Caron allowed the touring guitarist to take that solo, although she handled most of the night's leads and solos herself — her face rightfully contorting each time she held a bent a string on her gold Les Paul. Caron also carried the bulk of the vocal duties, with Niles holding down lead on several tracks, and the duo trading verses in the others. Harmonies were everywhere. Caron introduced most songs, offering fun color, and earning laughter with her casual banter. Niles, however, was the better dancer, and there was palpable joy each time she leapt off the drum riser. The touring rhythm section stayed mostly out of the way, allowing the duo to hold the spotlight — something the twosome handled superbly, even on the big Granada stage.
The audience continued to grow throughout the evening, and by 9:30 it had filled most of the pit at the Granada. The crowd was easily twice the size that saw Stiff Little Fingers only a week before. It was also easily half the age of that crowd. Soon I'd discover this crowd also brought twice the energy.
Not being familiar with Pup's discography, and much too far away to snag a set list, I can't tell you exactly what the quartet played. From my vantage point, it appeared that the band started with its biggest hit, and then played a bigger hit, and then a bigger hit, and then a bigger hit, continuing the trend for nearly an hour. Throughout the set, the crowd was positively kinetic — dancing, jumping, pushing, shoving, shouting out the lyrics to every song with eyes closed and heads tilted back, stage diving, crowd surfing and generally going ape. "Sleep in the Heat" from 2016's The Dream Is Over (SideOneDummy Records) turned into a screamalong that crested previous high-water marks set by the Front Bottoms and Mountain Goats. This is a band that was anything but milquetoast to its fans — this was a band that meant everything.
Frontman Stefan Babcock has a high, nasally voice, capable of delivering both spoken everyman vocals or a pleasing scream, but despite the club's impressive PA, I'm certain I heard the crowd more than him. The rest of the Toronto band was a similarly drowning churn of instruments occasionally pierced by a guitar lead or a snapping snare. Backing vocals were delivered by the other three members of the band and 300 excited millennials. During propulsive new single "Old Wounds," Babcock set his guitar aside, and strode the stage while gripping the microphone in every bit the hardcore mode the song demands. Ultimately Babcock climbed onto the audience, spitting out the song's angry lyrics while he was passed from hand to hand above the crowd. This provided the revelation I needed to understand the night and my past disinterest in Pup.
For years I nullified Pup as an insipid punk band, attempting to measure it against some yardstick that I understood. But that isn't Pup, and Pup's fans are not punks. Genres are an outdated and irrelevant concept to this generation, and punk rock (and its rites and rituals) is a filter that can be applied when called upon. This is how a pit can be chockablock with bouncing bodies and crowd surfers, and still be unrecognizable to me. This isn't to say that the band or its fans are somehow inauthentic, but it does reinforce what I thought all along, this show was for someone else's benefit, not my own.