PUP @ SWX, Bristol, 20.10.22

Toronto punks on blazing, life affirming form live in Bristol

Oct 21st, 2022 at SWX, Bristol / By Richard Kemp
PUP There’s a moment in Totally Fine, from PUP’s new album, THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND, where lead singer Stefan Babcock confesses that he’s started to feel like he’s slowly dying. "And if I’m being real", he says, "I don’t even mind". On first listen, this comes off as resigned honesty, as if he’s given in to the fact that everyone and everything is going to die, including him; so why worry? Hakuna Matata. But witnessing the band belt it out at Bristol’s SWX, the line takes on a different meaning – a sincerity, perhaps.

There was a time, in the ’90s and ‘00s, when being sincere was the absolute last thing you wanted to be. South Park was king, as were exaggerated forms of masculinity in the WWF/E. Seinfeld, too: the show about nothing where no lessons would or should ever be learned. Crucially, you never said what you meant. Even TV ads had actors winking ironically at their postmodern consumer audiences. David Foster Wallace famously warned against this tide of irony, calling it an agent of "Great despair and statis" in popular culture. Wallace insisted that we refocus on awareness, attention, discipline, and "Keep the truth up-front in daily consciousness".

Now, in 2022, we’ve turned a corner. Mental health is part of daily discourse. Friends talk to friends about seeing councillors. One of the biggest shows in recent years, Ted Lasso, is so sincere it walks a fine line between emotional brilliance and making you balk from too much sugary sweetness. We put up with Lasso’s corny locker room rousings because we know he really means it.

And when Babcock sings Totally Fine, it’s clear he means it, too. The whole band does. And so does the crowd, pointed fingers aloft. They’re not giving up; they’re grateful, sincerely.

They joke, too – it’s a PUP show after all – quipping about the latest outgoing prime minister (the last two times PUP has visited the UK, a PM has resigned – coincidence?) and supplying a bassline to the crowd-penned chant of “Fuck the Tories”. They smash out hit after hit (DVP, Morbid Stuff, Robot Writes A Love Song) and then they reach for that sincere button again, assuring us they feel so lucky to be playing live and take none of it for granted.

Babcock tells us about when his dad called after the release of PUP’s new album. He’d listened to it and told his son that he thought it was “Good”. We all celebrate with the band as they twang their instruments in jubilance, laughing at such a clipped review from Babcock’s dad. Music magazines across the board have rated the new album highly, but this one-word review from his father obviously means the world to Babcock. And we’re happy for him, sincerely: a member of the self-styled “Loser’s Club” has received the parental approval we all desire. It didn’t even matter that we were all slowly dying.

That’s the thing. Tonight, another Tory PM has bitten the dust. We celebrate this, but it’s also a marker for yet more time passing. On this earth, we are all heading in the same direction, but if we can fill our time with ballistic, frenetic, loving shows like this one, we don’t even mind.