Approaching The Brightside for this evening’s sold-out PUP show — part of the band’s first ever Australian headline tour — there’s already something noticeably different about the crowd. Gone is The Brightside’s unusually high ratio of hand and neck tattoos, now replaced by floral tees, ratty mop hairdos, and a plethora of Triple J audience attire, featuring Violent Soho and Dune Rats merch along with the 420 blaze it staples – weed socks. Hustling into the venue, and positioning ourselves on the raised balcony and railing, we neck a vodka on the rocks to get the party started, as the crowd begins to noticeably thicken.
Since it’s only a two-bill act this evening, Brisbane noise pop outfit BUGS have the indomitable position of warming up a slowly swelling, sold-out crowd. Thankfully, it’s a challenge they rise to with aplomb, as the three-piece launch into the summery deliciousness of single ‘When I Know.’ Punters rush the stage and before the chorus hits there’s already a throng of blokes and babes up the front getting their boogie on. Frontman and guitarist Connor Brooker works the crowd like a seasoned pro, smiling gleefully as he hits note after glorious note, bouncing up and down in a pair of oversized overalls that looks like he’s caught in the midst of a casting call nightmare for The Grapes of Wrath-meets-The Basketball Diaries.
Choice of outfits aside, these Brissy boys certainly know their way around a quality tune, as their lo-fi surf pop is utterly infectious and the crowd happily reciprocates to bangers like ‘Stutter’ and ‘Perfect’ from their recently released debut LP, ‘Growing Up’. Drummer Brock Weston keeps composed and spends most of the night with his serious face on, while the group’s nameless bass player reveals his Home & Away extras torso, much to the delight of some of the women in attendance. Brooker seems adept at between-song banter as well, speaking affably about working a dead-end retail job, the tiresome track of consumerism and maintaining vapid conversations with the “normal people”. It’s at this point we feel that a social contract is a strange thing, and clearly Brooker hasn’t really tried to drum up a conversation on population ethics with a standard Brightside punter at 2AM.
However, tonight’s crowd don’t seem to dwell on such musings, and BUGS carry on by ripping into the working class ode ‘Garbage Man’ and old favourites like ‘Tinnies’ and ‘Best Friend.’ In a seedy haze of smoke and bathed in red light, the group even try their hand at a cover of ‘Toxic’ by Mrs. Buzz Cut herself, Britney Spears — which comes off as surprisingly sexy as it is superfluous. Brooker comes to the defence of the suitably batshit Spears at the song’s end, giving her a footy coach style ‘On ya’ platitude, for “getting out there” and “giving it a red-hot go.” With some more Aussie colloquialisms thrown into the mix, the group run through certified banger ‘Instant Coffee’ (subject matter which is entirely relatable as we write this review in the wee hours) and yet another cover. This time around, it’s a moody take on R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, which puts some punters in spontaneous embraces and causes others to raise their lighters in a show of youthful solidarity. It’s clear that BUGS are well deserved of their opening slot tonight and sufficiently owned it, as evidenced by Brooker’s constant and wholly genuine thanks, alongside the crowd’s participation and rapturous applause. If ‘Growing Up’ is next in store, then we’re certain that tonight’s revellers will gladly wish for this fine local act to go the way of Peter Pan.
While we wait for Toronto’s finest to take the stage, gazing around at the crowd we see people jostle for positions in and around the stage, standing on bench seats, on the sides of the central staircase, and even one punter who’s oblivious to it all as he watches a SnapChat of someone’s sleeping dog. Nice one. The lights dim and the crowd’s anticipation becomes truly palpable as the affable gents in PUP take the stage to roars and chants. As the opening picking of ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will’ rings out, paired with vocalist and guitarist Stephen Babcock’s softly spoken lyrics, The Brightside practically erupts and people start losing their collective shit. A contingent of dude-bros near the stairs link arms in what can only be perceived as knuckle-dragging solidarity, before charging into the unsuspecting patrons and crushing the entire floor crowd into a two to three-metre-deep mosh pit. With everyone in close quarters, the crowd heaves near the stage while Babcock and guitarist Steve Sladkowski propel the set with jangly, guitar rhythms, looking on with a mixture of delight and concern written across their faces.
This just in folks: personal safety is out and punk rock is in.
PUP then launch straight into ‘DVP’ from recent LP, ‘The Dream Is Over’, and the mosh pit is nothing but flailing limbs, lost shoes and lewd acts, as the crowd scream back Babcock’s lyrics in a deafening show of appreciation that at times, manages to effectively drown out the band. Some rowdy jackal even throws his drink and its remaining ice contents directly at the stage. At the song’s climax, security storm the stage trying to calm the sea of crazy, fingers in their ears like a bunch of Agent Smith’s, as PUP re-group and Babcock politely informs Brisbane that tonight “you’re all a bunch of animals.” With some warnings about everyone being safe and ‘chill’ to one another, the band leaps into ‘Dark Days’ from their self-titled record, ‘My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier’, as well as ‘Sleep In The Heat‘. Drummer Zack Mykula and bassist Nestor Chumak join the choral backing vocals of the band, and in an act of utter futility, attempt to overpower the crowd’s roaring volume. At one point, Babcock tells the crowd not to climb the side railings and jump into the crowd, which of course, only encourages those would-be daredevils to repeat and replicate said request. Leaping with reckless abandon, we counted no less than 15 attempts all up. One punter, in particular, is suitably proficient at it, as he rolls over the heads and shoulders of those below, like a beach ball over a festival crowd.
Pulling equally from both of their full-length records, PUP really knows how to appease tonight’s audience, with powerful renditions of the 90’s pop aesthetics of ‘Mabu,’ the frantic ‘Back Against The Wall’, and the bona fide anthem of ‘Doubts’, all of which whip the crowd into a frenzy. Instrumentally, it’s not surprising that PUP is a tight and well-oiled machine, especially with them sitting in the seventh week off a 100-day world tour, as Babcock informs us between songs. The vocals might be redundant with a crowd this engaged, but their angular punk riffs and punctured drumming land with furious efficacy. At times, Chumak’s rumbling bottom end feels like PUP could easily pull off being a polished noise rock act, albeit one that’s either sped-up or slowed down for the desired effect; take your pick.
Closing their set with fan favourite ‘Reservoir’, the energy in the room reaches a fever pitch, as condensation drips from the walls and the air-conditioners work overtime to match the output of youthful sweat and heat.
As PUP leave the stage, the crowd are having none of it and before they disappear off-stage completely, there’s already a sustained shout for one more song. Returning to the stage almost immediately, for an encore that’s all but a formality at this point, Sladkowski informs the crowd that his Coopers Pale Ale is “a God-damn tasty beer.” Big mistake, my Canadian friend! Cries of “Shoey! Shoey! Shoey!” ring out and before you know it, Sladkowski is being peer-pressured by the crowd into drinking a quality beverage from a stranger’s sweaty shoe. Glorious.
To wrap up tonight’s performance, PUP pull a left-turn and drop into a rambunctious cover of Weezer’s 90’s classic ‘El Scorcho,’ which might not have the same impact as the O.G. PUP material, but it’s certainly fun as hell and the band are clearly enjoying themselves. With most of the crowd likely being embryos or tadpoles in their Dad’s scrotes when ‘Pinkerton’ came out, they still give it decent send-off, singing the obvious harmonies and keeping their crowd-surfing output at maximum levels. This end to the night helps show that the dream is hardly over, and PUP are very much still living it.