Pup played House of Blues – 5/10

Toronto punks Pup headlined their biggest Boston show yet at the House of Blues last week with support from Sheer Mag and Pinkshift.

Over the course of four albums and 10(ish) years, Pup have asserted themselves as one of the emo-punk sphere’s funniest, most self-aware and most exciting bands; a perfect storm of irrepressible energy, boundless hooks and a totally-doomed-but-thrashing-through-it perspective that’s propelled them from Canadian basements to rarefied heights. Their current North American tour, which just wrapped up its first leg with a hometown show up north over the weekend, brought them not only to Coachella, but to packed venues across the land double the size of where you might’ve caught them a few years back.

It was 2019’s widely-beloved Morbid Stuff that helped cross the band over from cult to general favorite, and in 2022 they find themselves touring a riskier record that – on some level – seems to grapple with that. April’s The Unraveling of Puptheband isn’t quite a concept album, but wears its metatextual qualities – which extend to a three-part song suite satirizing its recording process – quite prominently. It’s also the band’s most texturally diverse and least immediate record, elements that could’ve had the potential to destabilize the sweaty, shout-y live show at the core of Pup’s entire being.

Tuesday’s near-sellout at the House of Blues proved there’s nothing to fear in that regard, however. From the opening notes of “Four Chords” (ringing out from a keyboard, in a first for a Pup tour), there was scarcely a moment’s peace for band, crowd or security. The Pup live experience has scaled up, but lost none of its cathartic fervor. A solid chunk of songs from the new record, slightly revved up for the live setting, mingled comfortably with a spread of favorites from across the discography, and a roiling sea of fans on the general admission floor kept up the torrent of screamed lyrics and crowdsurfers throughout the full hour-plus set.

The band gave that energy right back to them too, playing to a crowd of 2,000-plus with the sort of in-this-together attitude that’s not always an easy thing to retain in the jump from small clubs to huge ones. Bandleader Stefan Babcock bounced around the stage like it was a trampoline through most every song, dueled with lead guitarist Steve Sladkowski on the “Hotel California” solo as an outro to favorite-guitar love song “Matilda,” and dropped the axe altogether to go full-on hardcore frontman mode for a few particularly scorching numbers (including the band’s self-professed favorite new song “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing for Bankruptcy,” which proceeded the don’t-call-it-an-encore). The rhythm section of bassist Nestor Chumak and drummer Zack Mykula was locked in as well, dexterously holding down the band’s oft-breathlessly-paced tunes.

Babcock made a point of mentioning toward the night’s end that he’d never been happier during his time in the band, and it wasn’t difficult to see why based on this particularly rowdy Tuesday night. The diligent work of Pup (the Band [Inc.]) is getting the recognition it’s always deserved, allowing the band to take risks and pulling increasingly huge and enthusiastic crowds in the process. You love to see it.

Opening up this run of shows was the one-two punch of Baltimore’s Pinkshift and Philly rockers Sheer Mag. The fresh-faced Pinkshift have approximately 15 minutes of recorded music to their name, but raced through all of it and then some during an impressive lead-off set. The quintet plays its emotionally raw pop-punk with a hardcore band’s attitude, and singer Ashrita Kumar is a totally magnetic presence on the mic. Sheer Mag, meanwhile, whose somewhat stiff live show has left me cold on more than one occasion, came to life before a receptive Pup crowd to deliver the hands-down best distillation of their riff-y throwback rock’n’roll I’ve seen to date.

Scroll below for a gallery from the whole night.