To paraphrase Mark Twain: reports of rock's death have been greatly exaggerated.
There's still lots of vitality and creative life left in a genre that has weathered its fair share of brutal indignities (Imagine Dragons! Mumford-core bands! Greta Van Fleet!). Watching PUP and Screaming Females lay waste to an enraptured audience at The Van Buren last night was a stirring reminder that guitar-based music can still stand tall and fuck shit up in a poptimist world.
Their show at The Van Buren was the first night of their joint tour (with The Drew Thomson Foundation as the opening act). I hoped that their live shows would live up to the ferocious energy captured on their records. Screaming Females kicked off on a high note with "It All Means Nothing," the first track off their killer 2012 album, Ugly. Shredding on the guitar with a feral intensity, Marissa Paternoster's distinctive voice (the result of throwing a yelp, a goat's bray, and Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh into a blender) rang out clearly through the densely packed room.
Screaming Females didn't do much in the way of banter or onstage theatrics. What they did have, though, was star power in the form of Paternoster. A guitar hero so deadly she could pose as much of an existential threat to Dinosaur Jr. as meteors posed to Dinosaur Sr., the dark-haired Paternoster was a dynamo of six-string action onstage. Soloing through a plume of purple smoke during "Black Moon," Paternoster reared her head back and spat a jet of water that arced perfectly up and around her head like she was a killer whale coming up for air.
The audience roared their approval with their fists in the air. She smiled sheepishly and kept on playing. As Screaming Females got closer to the end of their set, the energy in the room started rising toward a fever pitch — the first of several crowd-surfers breached the surface of the mob during "Hopeless," drifting across a current of hands while Paternoster crooned, "There ain't nothing left to do but dream."
PUP's set was also fairly no-frills. The stage was just a dark backdrop with their name scrawled across it in huge, wavy, white letters. The quartet of Canadian pop-punkers started their set with the title track off Morbid Stuff. While they played a fair amount of songs off their older records, most of their set was devoted to new material. That was a wise choice: Morbid Stuff bops, slays, jams, and thoroughly rips. PUP raced through their set with the kind of playful and generous energy you normally see in a young dog.
"We're going to play a song we wrote about being a miserable piece of shit: It's called 'See You At Your Funeral,'" said singer Stefan Babcock.
Babcock eloquently stated part of the appeal of PUP's music: It's music by and for fuck-ups, shot through with pain and sadness. But it's performed with a defiant spirit — a lust for life — that keeps it from being miserable. The anthemic quality of their songs can't be understated. If you don't feel the urge to bust a lung singing along to "Free At Last," "Kids," or "DVP," you're a stronger person than I'll ever be.
After playing "Dark Days," Babcock walked on top of the crowd, hoisted aloft by outstretched hands, and joined the other crowd-surfers that had been bobbing along throughout PUP's set. During one hilarious interlude, drummer Zack Mykula showed off his sampler pad by triggering a sample of Disturbed's "Down With the Sickness" (specifically David Draiman's monkey noises) in the middle of one of the band's songs.
Playing for nearly an hour, Babcock set up the band's finale (playing "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You, I Will," then launching straight into "DVP") by reminding the crowd that PUP doesn't do encores. As someone who deeply loathes encores, a no-encores policy is music to my ears. Why go through all the fake "will they/won't they" drama and the standing around and the bullshit Tinkerbell "clap-clap-clap to keep the show alive!" rigmarole? Encores are as obnoxious as post-credit scenes in movies and usually end up being just as unsatisfying to experience.
Who needs an encore after shouting "DON VALLEY PARKWAY" at the top of your lungs with hundreds of other PUP lovers?
Last Night: PUP and Screaming Females at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.
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The Crowd: A packed house of pop-punk fans and familiar faces from old Trunk Space shows. Not as many "olds" as you'd think there be — maybe the 40-plus set were at home, having rage-strokes over the evening's Democratic primary debate.
Overheard Random: "If you lose shit, please don't chuck it at us" — Stefan from PUP, who perhaps was inspired by the sight of multiple people waving their shoes up in the air.
Notebook Dump: I wonder when the post-show "everybody touch Van Buren's head on the way out" tradition started.