There are very few instances where I’ve been blown away by a band live while having little-to-no expectation going into a gig. This story is about one of those memorable times.
I’d known of Topanga and found their early releases catchy, and I also knew the band had recently changed their name to PUP – but that was about it. Immediately on the heels of the name change, PUP opened for The Dirty Nil one night in Hamilton. My friend Geoff and I showed up right in time for them to hit the stage. Earlier in the night we had debated whether or not we should arrive early enough to see them.
It was clear from the get go that PUP, though playing several of those earlier songs, had become more than simply a hook laden indie rock band. They were monstrous, energetic, totally locked in and fully engaging. It was hard to look away, but when I finally did at the end of their set, I saw Geoff, jaw on the floor next to mine, looking completely stunned. I’m sure I looked similar.
There are many reasons PUP has become Toronto’s (and arguably) the country’s biggest, most beloved pop-punk band. The relentless touring schedule that inspires much of the lyrical content on The Dream Is Over, those catchy group vocals, and the celebratory nature of their tunes all make PUP extremely likeable and ready for the masses. The biggest reason, however, is that they are also the best pop-punk band the country. They could have claimed the title after releasing their self-titled debut album, so consider The Dream Is Over PUP’s victory lap, further cementing this inevitable dynasty.
Album opener “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I Will” sets the mood and introduces the major themes of what follows. “DVP” encapsulates all the best things about the band and moves with about as much velocity as one could ever imagine driving on the song’s namesake roadway (Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway for those unfamiliar with the acronym). “Sleep In The Heat”, the spiritual sequel to “Mabu”, showcases guitarist Steve Sladkowski’s wizardry on the fret board. Seriously, this guy might be one of the best axe-men going right now. The one-two punch of “The Coast” and “Old Wounds” is PUP at their most sinister. The latter ranks among the best Single Mothers songs ever – which is a compliment. Stephan Babcock’s knack for melody is a true joy to hear. The choruses of “Doubts” and “Familiar Patterns” are maddeningly catchy while still being satisfyingly complex.
The same can be said about the band as whole. While the songs masquerade as catchy pop punk, PUP finds a way to add interesting rhythms, a time change, or one of Sladkowski’s “how the hell did he do that” guitar licks or solos to make sure they don’t rely too heavily on the tropes of the genre. It’s this intersection of complexity, propulsion and general catchiness that sets PUP apart and puts them above all other pop punk bands, and most rock for that matter in Canada. It is refreshing and rare to see a band as good as PUP gain such momentum and be held in such high regard by both the community they come from and by a wider audience. The Dream Is Over is certain to drop many more jaws on the sweat-soaked floors of venues across the country, and around the world.