On July 14 I treated myself to a double dose of PUP, one of the best live acts around. First, out in the blistering hot sun at Ottawa Bluesfest and then later that night in the sweaty depths of the House of Targ.
On the same day that the band’s latest album The Dream is Over was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, they got to play to a big crowd at 6 pm at Bluesfest. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Stefan Babcock, was loving the setting. “This is great, it feels like we are hanging out in a park by the river and perfect spot to play some rock ‘n’ roll,” said Babcock. The crowd was clearly feeling it because as soon as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You I will” kicked in the moshing and pogo-ing began. As the band followed up with “DVP,” “Dark Days,” and “Lionheart” the crowd never slowed. The other guitarist Steve Sladkowski made sure to remind them of the importance of looking out for each other. “Just because we are outside doesn’t mean the pit rules don’t apply, pick people up and take care of each other,” he said.
The band that toured more than almost anyone else since releasing their debut album in 2013, had taken a little time off leading up to and following the release of The Dream is Over. They showed no sign of rust. The band was firing on all cylinders, I checked my phone and at the 20 minute mark they had already played six songs and found time to chat up the crowd. If you are looking for blistering rock ‘n’ roll songs, energy and a great time, a PUP show is not to be missed. Sladkowski took some time to engage with the folks sitting in the back while other members were tuning. “I’d like to give a special shout-out to the people in the back who are just confused enough, they don’t know if they hate this or like it enough to stick around,” he said with a huge smile. The band kept plowing forward bouncing from their self-titled debut to their latest release throughout the set, but closed with a focus on songs for their long time supporters playing “Mabu,” “Yukon,” “Factories,” and “Reservoir,” all off of their debut album. As they thanked the crowd, we clearly weren’t ready for this to end and continued to yell for more. In a moment I have never seen before, a non-headlining band played an encore at a music festival. They closed with a cover of Weezer’s “El Scorcho.”
What a show. How could my day possibly get any better? How about another PUP show. We headed to House of Targ early to beat the rush for their “secret show.” But this was no regular show. Last time PUP played in Ottawa Stefan was losing his voice, so the band decided to try out PUP-karaoke and had so much fun they decided to do it again. As much fun as seeing the band play in the beautiful sun light by the river earlier, nothing compares to seeing the band in its element, a super hot and sweaty small intimate setting of a basement show.
Stefan explained that they would play some songs and then invite people on stage to take a mic and let them be the lead singer throughout the set. Stefan would still sing a long with them if they liked. The band opened this show as they did earlier that day and as they do their new album, with “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and “DVP.” The tone quickly got turned up a notch as they picked a guy out of the crowd and asked him for his request. He chose “Reservoir,” a song the band typically closes with. Not one they play third but they were into the idea saying “Already? Ok. Gauntlet thrown.” The guy who requested it didn’t want to sing it so they looked to the crowd and Marie-Eve “Merv the Perv” Mallet of local band Silvergun and Spleen answered the call and absolutely killed it. Merv started a trend and the next three PUP-karaoke songs were sang by women and they all did a fantastic job. Steve said “that’s 4 for 4, the ladies are batting a thousand and killing it.”
The crowd was extremely raucous constantly spilling onto the stage, moshing and pushing non-stop, and screaming every word at the top of their lungs. With so much crowd participation and people absolutely nailing it on stage, especially during “Guilt Trip,” Stefan took to the mic and said “This is the best I feel like I don’t even have to be in the band any more.” The show wasn’t all rosy, with so many bodies crashing on stage Stefan’s guitar peddles often got stepped on or unplugged and his guitars were having a hard time, but no one seemed to mind at all. A HUGE shout-out has to go to Matt Racha (The Valveenus and The Sentries) for essentially being Stefan’s guitar tech throughout the show. Stefan was extremely appreciative mentioning it multiple times and even telling the merch person to give Matt whatever he so desired for free. Speaking of free, mid-way through the set, Targ staff, including Yogi, brought out trays of pipping hot free hotdogs for the crowd.
Seeing a bunch of friends losing their mind in the crowd and some of them taking the stage, like Richard “Rich Chris” Barrie who slayed “Familiar Patterns,” made this one of the most memorable shows ever. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment as the show came to an end, Stefan said “Thank you for being so energetic when you watch the worst show of your life”
Their album may be called The Dream is Over but on this night they made several people’s dreams come true. I declare with the powers vested in me by Ottawa Showbox that July 14 should forever been known as PUP-day.