PUP / Weakened Friends Halifax Pop Explosion, Halifax NS, October 25
Published Oct 26, 2019It was after the drenched, fanatical crowd finished screaming every word to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" that guitarist Steve Sladkowski's face stretched into a sly grin. "That's fucking right on." After pausing to share a laugh with bandleader Stefan Babcock, he continued: "We never expected Halifax to leapfrog Birmingham, AL."
Torontonian punk-rockers and world travellers PUP did not have to win over any fans during their hour-plus headlining set at the Marquee Ballroom. After all, this is the crowd that sold out this Pop Explosion show in a single day — the first show on PUP's lengthy Canadian tour to sell out. Halifax was feeling separation anxiety from the three-year gap since PUP's last visit, and their return was greeted with cathartic exuberance.
Even the opening band — Portland, ME's Weakened Friends — were longtime fans of PUP, with lead singer Sonia Sturino admitting, "I remember being a kid and saying, 'What is this band?'"
Quickly winning the crowd over with their brand of open-hearted punk pop, Weakened Friends were clearly thrilled to be on stage, using their excitement to fuel an impressive set. Bassist Annie Hoffman and drummer Cam Jones were mostly engaged in a raucous, smiley party on one side of the stage, while Sturino's signature vocal squeaks and shudders were even more pronounced than on the band's recordings.
This self-described "bunch of weirdoes from Maine" jumped frantically during the self-titled track of last year's Common Blah, and Sturino belted passionately on "Blue Again." It was endearing to hear a band on the rise express such gratitude throughout their set, announcing "you made us feel like superheroes tonight!" before leaving the stage to watch the main act.
After minutes of hearing the crowd chant their name, PUP emerged. Clad in black-on-black, the band jumped into "Morbid Stuff" like a thunderbolt. However, it was their second song of the night, "Kids" — the first single off their latest record — in which the whole room came fully alive. Babcock strummed insistently while the crowd matched nearly every word, nearly drowning him out as they sang "I don't care about nothing but you" when the chorus hit. What the room was singing rang true — they were fixated. And freaking out. By the end of the track, the reckless crowd surfing was in full force.
And Babcock's first words of banter? "Holy shit."
The rowdiness of the crowd kicked the energy up, but it also caused some chaos early into the show. A fan nearly kicked the bass out of Nestor Chumak's hands; during a rousing rendition of "Free At Last," a loose elbow sent a phone flying, while another crowd member smacked a beer cup over people's heads; midway through "Scorpion Hill," a man lumbered onto the stage and flailed himself onto an unexpecting section of the crowd, forcing PUP to shut down the party for a moment. Seeming genuinely annoyed, Babcock offered a "friendly reminder to be good to everybody." Guitarist Sladkowski added, "gravity is still fucking undefeated" to an appreciative laugh from the crowd. Then, with all the grace of band that's been on the road consistently for nine months, offered a simple "shall we pick up where we left off?" and launched right back into the chorus.
Crowd insanity is par for the course at a PUP concert, but the energy in the Marquee Ballroom made this quintessentially frantic PUP performance distinct. The band tried to navigate a room that may have been too packed for its own good, with PUP fans that didn't blink at some of the unnecessary, meandering banter between certain songs that made for an oddly paced set. At certain moments, like during the song described as "being a miserable piece of shit" — "See You At Your Funeral" — Babcock's vocals felt phoned in, the band going along with the motions, with a crowd that was thrilled by their sheer presence. The admiration increased when PUP explained that they were collecting donations for RAVEN, a legal fund for Indigenous peoples, in a paper sack by the merch table.
After another spontaneous "PUP!" chant, the band snickered like school children at one another, then shot into 2016's "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will." Warned that there would be no encores, the satiated crowd ran for fresh air as soon as PUP left the stage.
Although there were moments when PUP seemed to be going through the motions, having no need to make a big impression, the whole night was an over-the-top love fest. It was a worshipful crowd, crushed into a boiling room, exuding over a seasoned band at a notable high in their career.