Published Oct 20, 2016When you're a true band of road warriors — and, given they're in the midst of a 100-day tour, Toronto's PUP certainly fit the bill — your nightly challenge is to try and take something that's become banal and ordinary to you and make it flirt, ever so slightly, with being extraordinary.
After all, for you, it's another night at the job, even if you happen to think that playing in a rock'n'roll band is the greatest job on earth. You only have so many songs, and so many ways of playing them. Some nights will go better than others, but they'll have more in common with one another than not. For those in the audience, though, each night is anything but routine — and great bands can feed off of that energy and make a little bit of magic out of it.
So, sure, part of what made PUP's second-ever show in Halifax (following an HPX appearance in 2013) a great one was that the band sounded fantastic, and that only two albums into their career, they've developed an uncanny knack for live dynamics; they know exactly when to pull a song back from the brink of chaos and when to let it loose. And, with the Polaris Prize-shortlisted The Dream Is Over, the band have a record you can build a strong, powerful set around. (They performed all of it except album-closer "Pine Point" in last night's show.)
But it's also that PUP were met with a fevered crowd eager for what was, for many, likely their first chance to see the band. They chanted "PUP! PUP! PUP!" minutes before the band arrived, exploded at the moment set-opener "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will" kicked into gear, and ramped up even further as the song transitioned into its Dream followup "DVP."
The energy level never dissipated at the front of the stage as the band bashed through Dream songs like "Can't Win" and "Doubts" alongside tracks from their self-titled debut like "Dark Days" and "Mabu." The latter made an inspired pairing with "Sleep in the Heat" — both with lyrics about vehicular farewells — which also made for the night's biggest sing-along. PUP's gang vocals demand crowd interaction, and the crowd responded in kind as vocalist Stefan Babcock leaned over the crowd, microphone outstretched.
"It doesn't matter what day of the week it is, everyone's fucking drunk," said guitarist Steve Sladkowski early in the set. He's probably right in presuming there may have been a few extra fuels at work in the crowd. But whatever the cause, it was the crowd that helped make PUP's set a most spirited kick-off to this year's Halifax Pop Explosion.