“Now would be a good time TO OPEN THE FUCKING PIIIIIT.”
The Wonder Ballroom in the Eliot neighborhood of Portland on March 17th and 18th hosted an evening with up-and-comers Pool Kids and emo legends Joyce Manor and PUP. I was really excited when I saw this concert enter my radar, although I was disappointed to have to miss Disq’s wonderful performance in The Coop, as my tickets were for the night of the 18th (my extended apologies to esteemed KPH board members). This was also the first time I attended a GA concert alone. For the record, I love participating in solo excursions, I was just concerned for my physical safety. So I stayed towards the back of the crowd, weary of my overinflated fear of getting my nose broken in the pit. So, here is my report on the excursion.
The venue, although in a questionable location in northeast Portland near the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, provided a comfortable space for my expedition. The space hosted a 21+ bar area that I did not venture towards, as well as a seated mezzanine for the elder-elder emos. I got there right at 8 p.m. and—after buying a hat for my friend from home who first introduced me to Joyce Manor— I planted myself in the middle-left.
Pool Kids were a decent opener for the concert. It was fun to see a female-led group in a mainly male-fronted genre. Singer Christine Goodwyne provided energetic and deep vocals alongside bassist Nicolette Alvarez and guitarist Andy Anaya, who dedicated a few songs to their friends and producer Mike Davis, who also has previously worked with Joyce Manor. They were clearly very stoked to be there, and there was a good synergy among the group that provided momentum for the following acts.
I was slightly surprised that Joyce Manor opened for PUP, considering their classic status in the genre. I was also surprised at the larger ratio of PUP shirts to Joyce Manor shirts in the crowd of flannels, skinny jeans, and ear gages.
Joyce Manor is simple, honest, and raw, utilizing the simplicity of pop lyrics and being unafraid to call out the absurdity of life and relationships without a poetic overlay—being honest about who you love and what you hate about them. The band had a humble attitude, with a modest set-up featuring a simple white backdrop with their name in black insignia. “Hi, we’re Joyce Manor. We’re from Torrance,” lead vocalist and guitarist Barry Johnson plainly stated like they were still playing shitty basement shows in their hometown.
Their set contained about three songs off their new album, 40 oz. To Fresno, opening with the high energy “NBTSA,” which echoes the insanely relatable line for every student who has attended a Reed College ball: “Something happened to me last night, and I may never be the same again.” But JM knew what the people wanted, and the rest of their set contained more classic songs off of their self-titled album and Never Hungover Again. They even played “These Kind of Ice Skates” from their first album Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Although their songs are short, the back-to-back classic bangers such as “Victoria” and “Falling In Love Again” proved that they didn’t need too many frills to showcase their talent. They took pride in the nostalgia and simple genius of their early work. These were seasoned veterans of the craft. If you knew, then you knew.
For the popular “Constant Headache,” Johnson jumped down from the stage and sang the second half at the barrier, while some attempted to crowd surf. Plenty of artists do this, but for some reason, when Johnson does it, it feels more meaningful, emotional. He established a connection this way, almost saying ‘yes, I feel this so deeply, and I know you do too,’ especially because of their limited interaction with the crowd during the set.
I kept my leather jacket on the whole time just in case they performed “Leather Jacket,” which they did as their closer. Very full circle moment. Well done, Joyce Manor.
Then there was PUP. PUP fucked. Forreal. The band was so in their element. Lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock was the perfect front-man to lead the beautiful raucous. The stoics around me suddenly started to show signs of actually enjoying the concert.
I’ll be honest—I knew about four songs from the Candian group going in, “DVP” and a smattering of others across their discography. I was just waiting for “DVP” so I could absolutely lose my shit for two minutes. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute exuberance and enthusiasm that the crowd suddenly emerged with. As the first four chords from “Four Chords” rang out, there was a wave of rejuvenation. A bit less emotional than JM, but still filled with angst, PUP leans into the more discordant punk sound that really riles up anyone who enjoys warm PBRs a little too much.
PUP was clearly having as much fun as the audience. Babcock jumped around the stage like it was nobody’s goddamn business. He was kicking, he was screaming. He stage-dove into the pit of very willing and eager middle-aged men who were ready to hold him up to the Gods, because honestly, he was worth it. Bassist Nestor Chumack also relayed such exuberance—I’ve never seen a bassist be able to jump around so much. I was also devastated to learn the hand-banging guitarist Steve Sladowski, who delivered clean yet exciting solos, was engaged and is now married. So it goes.
The band frequently chatted with the crowd, differing from the prior act, asking us all to introduce ourselves to those around us and to make sure our peers were doing okay throughout the set; another aspect of this post-Astroworld landscape of live music that we’re living in. But, I feel like this has been an ongoing aspect of this culture. About midway through the concert, there was a dialogue about whether the band did cocaine and if they urinated. “PUP don’t piss” was the chant and final verdict that arose. “Nothing coming in and nothing going out.” They even extended their gratitude to Joyce Manor, speaking on how much they respected and idolized the group and their contributions to the music scene. I came to understand why they were the final act on the bill. They ended the night with an absolute bang.
The unique intimacy of this genre remains, even if the fan base has grown and changed. Bands like these understand the amount of nostalgia that their fans associate with them. Joyce Manor and PUP gave the people what they wanted and they were happy to do it, as Babcock inquired, “How about we play some old shit?” to which the crowd responded with a roaring “hell yes.”
My main vibe critiques mostly stem from the expected uncomfortableness from my status as a neurotic 20-year-old solo girl in a crowd of middle-aged adults. A benefit of this crowd is their experience in and respect for concert etiquette. The few people I chatted with around me were friendly. Additionally, this respect was demonstrated in the pit, as people held up missing items from the thrashing and the bands never had to stop a song to make sure a mosher was alright. The downside of this crowd, however, was the bit of pretentious air that accompanied it. A side effect of this pretentiousness is that no one gets as hype as they should! This kind of music does not call for simply standing and bobbing one’s head. I figured I must’ve looked so juvenile to the stoic dudes standing around me while I thrashed around and screamed lyrics into their ears. Yes, I know we’re not in the pit but c’mon, man, take your hands out of your pockets and move those hips a little bit.
(And also the one chick that shoulder-checked me to get through to the pit but honestly that was a given.)
Despite these critiques, I had a flat-out great time. I found myself in the midst of my jumping and singing having a sort of out-of-body experience, thinking about high school Maya first listening to these bands in the solitude of her bedroom, and how happy she would be to know she would not only get to see them live but in one of her favorite cities—that she would be truly happy.
The pit was kind of reassuring to see so much loyalty from fans of this genre. I did spot quite a few people my age, including some high schoolers with very hip parents. Music like this is just too visceral to go extinct. Even though I’m fairly new to it, I gained a better perception of the culture and by the end of the night felt more comfortable in the whole scene. I feel very fortunate to have witnessed such an awesome line-up, and Portland and I will be ready for what they have to offer us next.