My trip started out Friday morning as three of us packed into the car to head to Toronto to see a band we all grew up listening to and, for one reason or another, never got to see live. This was our chance: the Grade reunion show at The Opera House. Grade was an influential act in their day, as they practically started the whole "screamo" genre of blending hardcore screaming with melodic guitars and emotional singing all mixed into a great style of punk rock. To this day I consider Under the Radar to be a nearly flawless album that should be considered one of the greatest punk rock albums of the late `90s. They created a sound that no one else had at that time and so many bands try to copy now. Grade did it first and they did it best, and we were finally going to see them live. We arrived at the venue just after 8 P.M. to find out that there would be 3 opening bands, then the headliner.
Before any music started to be played, we checked out the merch area. I was surprised to see that Grade was selling anything at all considering they have been broken up for some time now. They were selling two t-shirts, buttons, stickers, all of their albums on CD, and two vinyls. One vinyl was a picture disc of their final album, Headfirst Straight to Hell, and the other was an LP version of their very first release, a split with Believe (these tracks were also included on The Embarrassing Beginning). The first band was finished setting up so we headed towards the front to see what they were all about.
The names of the first two bands eludes me, partly because they never mentioned their names on stage and also because I was semi-uninterested to hear their typical hardcore numbers. There were very few differences between these two bands: very heavy riffs, relatively no melody, and lots of indiscernible screaming. They were pretty good at doing the whole hardcore, almost metal thing, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
The third band started setting up and we headed down to the main floor to get our blood pumping before the start of Grade. I noticed a keyboard was on the stage, which was a nice sight just because it meant that this next band probably wasn't going to be like the first two bands. I did catch the name of this band, the Reason, because they mentioned it multiple times during their set. They indicated once that some of their influences were Grade and Hot Water Music, but they were a little more emo than those bands mentioned. However, I thought that they had a pretty good sound, despite the whiny vocals. They played one song that they said was the first they ever wrote and you could tell it was heavily influenced by Grade; it could have easily been written by Kyle Bishop. They also mentioned more than once that they were huge fans of Grade and the whole idea of playing a show with the now defunct act was surreal to them. At the end of their set the lead singer told everyone that they better be psyched for Grade, and that he would see us all in the pit.
Next up was the almighty Grade. To give a quick background, they broke up right after the release of their last album, around 2002. Rumors have swirled about the reason for the breakup, many people blaming the lead singer and head songwriter Kyle Bishop for being bossy and difficult to work with. In any event, the band seemed pretty tight on this night; you'd think they had never taken a break. The lights dimmed and four of the members stepped onto the stage as the drummer began an extended intro to "Conceptualizing Theories in Motion," the first song off the album Separate the Magnets. Then Kyle Bishop, with his styled hair and lightning bolt sideburns, stepped up and the show was underway. Grade brought the rock with them and started out with a bang, not letting up for the entire show.
The show was billed as the original lineup from the Under the Radar album, so as you would expect, the set list included almost that entire album, minus a couple songs. I was surprised to hear so many songs from their early album Separate the Magnets as they played every single song off of that album, including the closing track "The Tie That Binds." Kyle even started that song off with the intro chant, "Brothers!! Brothers can you hear me?!" They also played a couple of songs off of Headfirst Straight to Hell and one of the guitarists mentioned that he wanted to thank the guys that played on that album for taking over the empty spots in Grade in order to keep the band going. Overall, I cannot imagine how the show could have been any better. They played nearly all of their best songs with great energy and flawless instrumentation. The entire show was played with the crowd in mind, as Kyle would often jump into the front row or hand off the mic to others to get in on the action. The entire band really seemed like they were enjoying themselves, which made me wonder why they even broke up in the first place. I thought that maybe with this show there would be some sort of rekindling of the flame and they might get back together, but those dreams were dashed with the closing song.
They ended the night by saying that there would be no encore, this was their last song, and then they ripped into the opening track on Under the Radar, "The Inefficiency of Emotion." Included in this closer was an extended bridge in the middle of the song where Kyle sings "Where do you start when you are already in the middle of things?" The crowd continued to chant with every repetition of the line, then they finally burst into the end of the song, with the crowd going absolutely nuts.
Grade then closed out the night by thanking everyone for coming out, and the last line out of Kyle Bishop's mouth was "We were Grade." This final phrase sent all of my hopes and dreams of a true Grade reunion down the tube. I guess there will not be a reunion tour, or even a new album. Maybe the band wanted an official last show that they never got with this lineup. Whatever the case may be, it was an unforgettable night and reassured me that Grade is a timeless band that were setting trends long before any other bands were combining elements of hardcore and emo into an unmatched style of music. They defined a genre and a generation of punk that I will always be proud to be a part of.
Set list (in order by album):
Separate the Magnets
Under the Radar
- Conceptualizing Theories in Motion (opener)
- Symptoms of Simplifying the Simplistic
- The Adaptation of Means
- Life Gets in the Way of Living
- To Illustrate and Design Parameters
- The Joy of Stupidity
- The Tie That Binds
Headfirst Straight to Hell
- The Innefficiancy of Emotion (closer)
- For the Memory of Love
- The Tension Between Stillness and Motion
- Victims of Mathematics
- The Worst Lies Are Told in Silence
- Stolen Bikes Ride Faster
- When Something Goes to Your Head
- Triumph and Tragedy
- Little Satisfactions
- *one other that I can't remember