Review by Walker Price, photos by Sophia Risin
“Almost shed tears over the fact that we r living in a pop punk come back and pup isn’t the biggest band in the whole world” reads a real text a friend of mine sent me ahead of the band’s second of two shows at the Warfield on March 12. She isn’t wrong. Pop punk has been enjoying a renaissance in the past few years, and while Canadian staple PUP is nowhere near small, they aren’t the genre’s frontrunner, the mantle is borne by bands like Waterparks and, unfortunately, Machine Gun Kelly. They aren’t, if Spotify numbers mean anything, even the largest band on their tour at the moment; coheadliners Joyce Manor inexplicably boast almost two hundred thousand more monthly listeners. That said, if you were in high school or in any way aware of modern pop punk in 2019, there lives no doubt in my mind that you have likely listened to PUP’s arguably best record, Morbid Stuff. There were about three months of my life where I listened to it almost non-stop. Seriously. I would listen on my record player, and at the end of the b-side, I would flip it right back over and start from the top again, no break whatsoever. Please, No comments on my mental state in high school. Pop punk, on the whole, is a genre I can no longer listen to without cringing, as PUP themselves put it in ‘Full Blown Meltdown:’ “I’m just surprised the world isn’t sick of grown men whining like children.” The genre essentially holds no interest to me as an adult. However, there is something about Morbid Stuff, and indeed much of Pup’s discography, that transcends this, and while I haven’t given the record or any of its individual tracks a listen in a decent while, whenever I do it feels just as cathartic as it did four years ago.
This is all context for why, when given the option, I leapt at the chance to see and write about PUP’s co-headlining show with Joyce Manor at the Regency Ballroom this past Sunday, featuring sorely needed support from Pool Kids. When you have two similarly-branded bands whose collective heydays spanned most of last decade, you need something more innovative, younger, different. Pool Kids was one of the few bands that can pull this off. Their set, the second of theirs I have seen, was bombastic and expansive enough to make one wonder why they were supporting, not headlining this tour, and I truly believe that two years down the line we will see this band eclipse the tour’s headliners. The crowd was by far the smallest for Pool Kids, but this didn’t deter their energy, nor did it stop frontperson Christine Goodwyne from leaping into the crowd to scream out the lyrics along with the crowd to their r penultimate song, This set would’ve been equally at home in a crowded, smelly basement or an entirely packed stadium. It’s clear, too, that this is the direction the pop-punk renaissance is moving – Pool Kids, and bands of their ilk, are the future of this genre. As if just to prove this, at the end of their set Goodwyne thanked their crowd for showing up early, and multiple roars emitted from colorful-haired teenagers: “We just came for you!”
The crowd for the Joyce Manor set was visibly older than their predecessors’: fewer mullets, more beards and flannels. It was clear the people who had come to see this band saw something important in them, this is a band that can, presumably, speak to your inner (man)child. Each song shorter than the one before, all of them blending together into formulaic pop-punk with no defining qualities, other than being fairly annoying. The image that, I think, best sums up Joyce Manor that night is that of two Marshall amp heads, a drum kit’s worth of distance apart, each bearing an open can of Miller Lite that the band nursed throughout their set.
PUP was different. Visually, their set bore one incredibly important distinction from Joyce Manor’s: A trans flag draped over a guitar amp, slightly off-center on the stage. This wasn’t just opportunistic showmanship, PUP has consistently engaged in fundraising for trans charities and vocally denounced the wave of systemic transphobia that has swept the west in the past few years. About two songs in, frontman Stefan Babcock took a moment to admonish the crowd – be aware of your surroundings, he told us, it is your responsibility to ensure other people’s safety and comfort in the pit – the larger you are, the more power you have, the more responsibility you bear for other people. That was not lost on the moshers, at multiple points you could see small circles open up within the larger one to make room for fallen people to recover, at one point a yelling throng of people got the band to stop just as a song was starting to find a lost phone. It was a kind of pit one doesn’t expect in a genre dominated by men whining vaguely misogynistic things about people who have scorned them in some way, or lamenting the loss of their teenage years ten years too late, but PUP has never been that band, the most scathing insults are pointed directly at Babcock himself. Their set itself was fantastic, buoyed by the sense of safety one could feel while throwing themself at other people and having them respond in kind. PUP has this unmistakable quality to turn the most self-loathing songs from sit-alone-in-your-room-in-the-dark moments into communal, scream-along moments without either one feeling out of place.