Pup - Live in Denver (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Live in Denver (2016)

live show

Pup is a unique band in that I can’t really think of another band I can compare them to. While they may be pop-punk, they’re their own unique brand of pop-punk that sounds unlike anything I’ve heard before. It’s undoubtedly infectious and loud as hell and, as I found from their live show, everything they do, they do better live.

The four-and-a-half star rating you see here is for Pup’s performance, but I have to give at least a little bit of a rundown of the two openers before moving forward, who did not warrant as high of a rating. The first opening band, Chastity, kind of wanted to be Fugazi meets Jane’s Addiction with a weird grunge-hippie vibe. The guitars swirled and swirled and swirled until I needed a Dramamine to be able to handle all the swirling. Meatwave was kind of like a more staccato version of Hot Water Music, and they started their set really winning over people in the crowd who didn’t know their material. Yet, I do like to see bands appropriately paired together like I’m some sort of rock sommelier (which is like a regular sommelier, except she’s always broke and sleeps on a mattress on her apartment floor), and I did find Meatwaves oblique, serious tone to be a bit of an odd pairing with Pup’s smart, yet youthful, humor. As Meatwave delved into their longer, repetitive instrumental parts and some of their really experimental elements, they seemed to divide the crowd between lovers and haters, and by the end of the set, I felt like I was a little of both.

It wasn’t really a surprise to anyone that Pup started with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, Then I Will,” but from the extended drum solo that marked the end of the guitar intro of the song into its more hard rocking ramp up, it became clear that Pup has a natural talent for showmanship. Besides the obvious gimmicks of crowdsurfing while singing (made more convenient by the complete lack of any security between the crowd and band), Pup know how to build up crescendos and play off of the audience’s anticipation. There were practically no silent moments, and even when the band had to tune their instruments, there was always a drum solo improvised to fill the silence. The gang vocals that are worked into so many of their songs gave lead singer Stefan Babcock more physical freedom than a normal guitar-playing frontman; there’s little need to ensure you make it back to the microphone in time for the big chorus when you know the rest of the band and audience are already on it.

One thing that I always see as a mark of a good live band is if they can change my mind about one or more of their songs, and that was certainly the case with Pup. Most of the time, I tend to prefer Pup’s tight, fast rock songs to their longer, darker, drawn-out material like “The Coast” or “Yukon.” However, the live performances of both of those songs were so dark, foreboding, sinister, and passionate that I was sold on them in a way that I never have been with the album versions.

After closing out the main set with “Old Wounds,” which made them sounds like Lifter Puller as a hardcore band (trust me, that’s a compliment), they took a short break and did something I found refreshing: they came back out on stage to talk about how bullshit encores are. I don’t blame them. Since so many encores are automatic these days, it’s little more than an illusion and a chance, as the band said, to finish their drinks and decide which song to play.

I think every set should have a good cover in it.  And it should be not just any cover, but one that fits perfectly with your own music, yet is somehow completely unexpected. It should be a cover that makes everyone in the audience go “Yes, of course, I didn’t know I needed this song until right now, but I really, really do!” And that’s what Pup did with their encore with a perfect cover of Weezer’s “El Scorcho,” that followed Weezer’s original for the most part until guitarist Steve Sladkowski decided to add some of his own guitar riffs to the final verse. My only complaint was that “El Scorcho” was their entire encore, as I would have preferred them to finish on one of their own songs, but otherwise it was a near perfect ending to a near perfect set.