PUP returned to Vancouver, British Columbia on March 29th to a sold-out crowd for the first leg of their 2019 “Tour-Pocalypse” in support of their third record, Morbid Stuff
KCR Canada special correspondent checking in here! I finally did something on a Friday night other than drinking beer in bed alone and ventured out to catch Toronto’s beloved punk rock sons, PUP, at the Wise Hall and Lounge on March 29th. Having seen PUP one rowdy night in 2016 at the now-shuttered Cobalt Cabaret, I knew this was a show I shouldn’t miss.
I ran into a slight complication in my plans to attend this show: the tickets to PUP’s Vancouver show sold out in minutes. Granted, the Wise Hall is a pretty small venue, but PUP really seems to be blowing up in recent years. They’ve sold out tons of their upcoming North American tour dates, including all of their Canadian dates, the Fillmore in San Francisco, and both nights at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles. For what I once considered a small Canadian punk band, this is unheard of. I managed to get two tickets a week before the show when the band tweeted that they’d released some more.
The Wise Hall is located just off of Commercial Drive in East Vancouver in the Grandview-Woodland/Little Italy neighborhood. It’s sort of reminiscent of the Irenic in that it’s on a residential street, has a capacity of about 250 people, and was clearly never meant to be a punk rock venue. It’s the type of place that feels homey and welcoming, with gothic chandeliers and a disco ball giving it added charm. Barricade status: none. Hooray!
I arrived at the Wise in time to catch the second opener, Pkew Pkew Pkew.
While I really enjoyed their set, I despise saying their name aloud. They reminded me a bit of The Gaslight Anthem, but I also haven’t listened to The Gaslight Anthem in about eight years, so that might be completely off the mark. Pkew Pkew Pkew is also from Toronto, so they’ve spent a lot of time with PUP over the past few years, both as label-mates and as tour-mates. As such, the crowd welcomed them with open arms and an open mosh pit.
PUP took the stage at 10:45, opening with “Free at Last” from their not-yet-released (at the time) third record, Morbid Stuff.
Morbid Stuff wasn’t released until April 5, but the band played four other songs from the record in the middle of their set: “Sibling Rivalry,” “Kids,” “Scorpion Hill,” and “Morbid Stuff.” Lead vocalist Stefan Babcock prefaced their performance of “Morbid Stuff” by asking us not to film it, in part because it hadn’t been released yet and in part because they “fucking suck at playing it”. While the first reason may have been true, the second certainly wasn’t. The song sounded great, and I’m excited to hear it again once the record comes out.
Fan favorites like “Guilt Trip” and “Sleep in the Heat” were well-received by the crowd; these moments were punctuated by fans (crowd) surfing and (stage) diving overhead. This is the closest thing I have to a day at the beach now that I’m not in San Diego. Anyway, if you’re a big fan of Netflix’s Stranger Things, you should check out PUP’s music videos for these two songs, which both feature Finn Wolfhard. I myself recently almost walked into Finn Wolfhard while coming out of an Urban Outfitters in Vancouver’s affluent, yoga-loving Kitsilano neighborhood. Welcome to Vancouver, aka Hollywood North.
Recently, PUP tweeted that they would be partnering with a local charity for all of their headlining shows on this upcoming tour (and for the foreseeable future).
They’re additionally committed to giving the charity a space at future shows to provide information about their cause. For their show at the Wise, they partnered with Urban Native Youth Association. UNYA provides support for Indigenous youth, empowering them to excel in life and inspiring them to become leaders in their communities. Towards the end of the show, guitarist Steve Sladkowski took some time to talk about the organization, praising them for their work and condemning the government’s abhorrent treatment of Indigenous people throughout Canada’s history. He urged us to fill UNYA’s donation box at the merch table, emphasizing how much work the organization does not only in Vancouver, but particularly in the very neighborhood in which we were attending their show.
Punk has always been about expressing yourself and finding acceptance among likeminded individuals who challenge the status quo. However, initiatives like these really exemplify the shift that’s been happening in the scene recently, a shift in how bands use their platforms and how they prioritize inclusion and safety for everyone at shows. This doesn’t mean that we have to cancel mosh pits and put up barricades at every opportunity. It means that bands are becoming more accountable for how their fans are treated at shows and doing their best to use their platforms to give back to the communities their fans are a part of. Clearly, being punk rock and being a good person don’t have to be mutually exclusive anymore.
Towards the end of the night, the band invited us to participate in a special activity called “PUP Karaoke.”
It’s exactly like it sounds: they invite someone from the crowd to come up and sing one of their songs. Tonight, that song would be “Reservoir” from their 2013 debut self-titled record. While Babcock said that “no one should know the words to any PUP song,” he also said the karaoke participant at their Calgary show had never heard the song before. That would not be the case for tonight’s volunteer, “Seth” (wearing a Space Jam-esque “Abolish ICE” shirt), who knew every word and took this opportunity to live out his punk rock dreams.
When I saw PUP in 2016, they opened the show with what I consider to be their two biggest crowd-pleasers: “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP,” both off their second album, The Dream Is Over. The first song segues perfectly into the second with no gap in between, both on the record and at their shows. This time around, the songs were shifted to the end of what was a pretty short set. Probably a better spot for them, as a band’s de facto anthem(s?) are usually best reserved for the finale.
A note about PUP: they don’t do encores, claiming that they “feel like assholes” playing their (fake) last song, leaving the stage for a couple minutes, and returning to play a couple more. As someone who hates clichés, I am in total agreement with their views on encores. With this in mind, PUP sent us off with the aforementioned twin bangers and thanked us for what they said was one of their favorite shows they’ve ever played. I might miss San Diego every minute of every day I spend in Canada, but shows like these suggest that maybe there’s hope for the Vancouver music scene after all.