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Concerts review: puppies pile into Gardner

Stefan Babcock and Steve Sladowski of PUP perform onstage at Gardner on Monday night.
Stefan Babcock and Steve Sladowski of PUP perform onstage at Gardner on Monday night.
Stefan Babcock and Steve Sladowski of PUP perform onstage at Gardner on Monday night. Photo by Chris Lee.

PUP is a four-piece punk band from Toronto with an attitude and a big heart. The band graced Gardner on Monday night thanks to SGA Concerts.

Opening up the night was Grinnell’s very own, The Night, playing covers of the Arctic Monkeys. The four-piece has been together since its first year, and, like a good wine on a bad night, has only gotten better with age. Make sure to catch its full-length show tonight at 10 p.m. in Loose Lounge.

When PUP came on stage after a brief introduction, it launched into its first number, the catchy and anthemic “Guilt Trip.” It’s a song detailing the drunken monologue one has, in their head or on the phone, about leaving a lover who just wants to be left alone.

The band carried it off with deftness, swinging in and out of rage and angsty melancholy. Its sound is reminiscent of Blink-182, with freewheeling and raucous guitar riffs and wailing vocals, a gruffness that belies a sensitive and a nuanced approach to the turbulent emotional waters of boyhood.

Refusing to let its tussle with inner turmoil bring down the high energy of its music, PUP carried into its next song, “Dark Days,” with earnest enthusiasm.

“Everyone is gone, and everything is changed / It won’t ever be the same / And when it’s over we’ll say / We’ve had some dark days / We’re in the thick of it now / And when the ice breaks / There will be no one around.”

Guitarist Zack Mykula showcased his penchant for ricocheting between pinpoint guitar-picking and more grand sweeping riffs, while singer Stefan Babcock bellowed out their emotional lyrics. For what he lacked in stature, standing at around 5’5”, Babcock made up for in mountainous energy, screaming out the lyrics consistently and boisterously, preaching as PUP took the crowd to church.

The band’s anecdotes set the stage for its songs, particularly about one of Babcock’s long-lost loves: his old car.

“This song is about my car. The guys and I went to a monster truck derby in Davenport in December, where I crashed my car in the derby, and I miss her … F*ck Davenport.”

The song that this story led into, “Yukon Valley,” was a bit more subdued than the rest of the songs in speed but not in energy. After an intro of distorted guitar noise, the band launched into the heart-broken ballad, evoking heartache as enormous as the relentless forlorn furor of Celine Dion.

“I watched you die as the temperature was rising / In the Yukon Valley, where you left me / You left me on my knees / On the great sleigh river to the West, but I headed East,” Babcock sang.

The song got some of the Grinnellians moving, pulling out their best drunken wobbles and knee bops. You haven’t seen liberal arts emotion until you’ve seen the blonde bob of a short girl violently shaking as she’s blasted by the central speaker, a testament to the act of a concertgoer allowing their body to become the vessel for musical expression.

PUP ended its show on a much more upbeat note, covering “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, in which Babcock requested the crowd to gaggle together in order to crowd surf. This was met by the crowd exchanging confused looks: Could you crowd surf in Gardner? Were there enough people here? Is that one-page paper for Tutorial due tomorrow?

Indeed, there were enough people, as Babcock reared above the crowd and screamed rap lyrics about sabotage and destroy into the basement of Main on a Monday night. As he soared above the heads of screaming Grinnellians, angelic and energetic PUP proved that all dogs do indeed go to heaven.

Photo by Shadman Asif.
Photo by Shadman Asif.

On Wednesday night, L-Vis 1990 and Traxman came as a joint DJ set to try and set the dance floor alight. Although the turnout was large, the dance floor never really reached optimum turn-up level, but there was fun and dancing to be had.

L-Vis 1990 is a DJ from London who specializes in house music with chop-n-screw influences. His music recalls a more subdued Basement Jaxx, and the tone that he set for the night was remarkable. If one was to close their eyes, it really did feel like a trendy British club or a New York basement party. Grinnellians, however, eager to be up bright and early Thursday morning, were less than prepared to dance voraciously on a Wednesday night. L-Vis 1990s set, hypnotic beats and all, did get the floor dancing but might have been more appropriate for a weekend show.

Had this been the case, Traxman would have blown the roof off the joint. Traxman is a juke DJ from Chicago, and his set brought the high-energy-Chicago-footwork music that put house on the map. Traxman interacted with the crowd regularly, giving shout outs and feeling his music as much as the crowd was. His set’s irreverent and clever transitions and vocal samples were exciting, but by 12 a.m. Wednesday night, the crowd was sadly sparse.

Concerts Chair Violeta Ruiz Espigares ’15, however, was pleased with the set and how the DJ collaboration worked out.

“We work really closely with Surefire Agency. One of their agents who we’ve worked with before asked if we wanted to bring L-Vis 1990 and Traxman together and I couldn’t resist!” Ruiz Espigares said. “It was a really good opportunity to bring someone from … the U.K. to collaborate with someone from the Midwest to bring together the similar elements of their styles.”

Overall a fun night with legit club music, but had the sands of time sifted differently, the set would’ve benefitted from a Friday night slot.

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