Since my first listen of the new Grade 2 LP, I’ve been champing at the bit to hear these songs live, and tonight finally delivers exactly what I’d hoped for. Another early Sunday night at The Star & Garter, courtesy of STP Records (thanks Stu) as the tour shunts into the sidings in the shadow of Piccadilly station, for its final date.
I have to confess to being a little late to the party, as I’d skilfully managed to avoid ever seeing the band, until I was fortunate enough to catch them on last summer’s Social Distortion Tour. A mistake I will not be repeating again. That night I felt sorry for Mike Ness as they blew the Ritz audience away. It must have been a difficult act to follow, with their high octane mix of melodic street punk and singalong anthems making them many new fans. I spent a small fortune at the merch that night, buying up their complete recorded output!
I don’t catch the support acts due to football traffic and sheer bad planning, but London Hardcore outfit Clobber, are just finishing their set, their loud and brutal sounds filtering downstairs, greeting me as I arrive. I chat briefly to Sid (bass/vox) and Jacob (drums) at the merch stand, sad fanboy that I am, telling them how much I lurve the new songs and how much shorter these tracks are than previous albums. Sid laughs and tells me it’s because they’ve learnt to “cut the crap out”! Whilst that may be true, I think Tim Armstrong’s production might just have been influential in that transition, since they signed to Hell Cat Records. The new songs sound less compressed, whilst losing none of the power, allowing the melody to breathe. How they’ll translate on the tiny Star & Garter stage, will be interesting to hear. They also inform me that they’ve picked up some new fans on this tour, just from the new material, mostly oblivious to the existence of the previous 3 albums!
90 minutes later I realise I shouldn’t have worried. They translate just fine. They’ve been together 10 years now, a fact that Sid remarks on and thanks everyone for their continued support. It shows too, with the slickness of movement as Jack (Guitar/vox) and Sid find the space and time to bounce around on a postage stamp, constantly swapping between vocal duties and microphones, without getting in each other’s way.
Sid gets things underway with the bass riff to Judgement Day, before Jack joins in from off stage and we’re off. With the current global energy crisis, it would be great if you could harness the power in the room tonight. There’s no feeling our way in, despite the early start, and some punters seem to have managed to get suitably “refreshed” in preparation for the evening. An early attempt to access the stage ends with a premature faceplant on the monitor, resulting in a bloody nose, barely 4 songs in! Things get a little feisty awhile later when a scuffle breaks out, but Jack is quick to call it out and shut it down. Thankfully it doesn’t escalate again and we all move on.
Tonight’s set is mostly dominated by the new LP and 2019’s Graveyard Island, making up the bulk of the 19 song, with old faves All I Know and Forever (from 2016’s debut Mainstream View), rubbing shoulders with Falling Bridges, Pubwatch and Turning The Tide (from 2017’s Break The Routine). These earlier songs neatly showcase how the band have evolved. From the oi streetpunk voices of Angelic Upstarts/Cock Sparrer, through China Drum to Goldblade, Rancid and Bouncing Souls, stopping off to pay respects to The Ruts and even Stiff Little Fingers.
The chemistry between the two vocalists is impressive, the way they chop and change, the call and response, never missing a beat. Jacob’s drumming anchors the whole shebang and they are squeaky tight as a unit. I’ve already called Grade 2 as the best punk album you’re likely to hear in 2023.
They’re off to the Europe on a 23 date tour after a few days rest, before heading to the US for another 19 shows, before joining label boss, Tim Armstrong, on tour with Rancid in Europe, with two UK dates – June 20th Brixton and June 21st Victoria Warehouse.
Grade 2 is out now on Hellcat Records and you can pick up a vinyl copy directly from the band Here
Only Ones I Trust
Don’t Look Back
All I Know
Turning The Tide
Bowling Green Lane
Under The Streetlight
Tired Of It
ENCORE: Where Eagles Dare (Misfits Cover)