Grade 2 - Live in San Francisco (Cover Artwork)

Grade 2

Live in San Francisco (2023)

live show

Review by Rose Eden

“You smell good.” I looked up from my phone to see a petite bespeckled blonde wearing a Booze and Glory shirt standing beside me. “No really - you smell amazing! What is that?” I glanced to my left at my photographer, Sarah, and giggled as we began what ended up being a long chat and learned she had come to see English band Grade 2 with her husband and four of their combined nine children.

It was the couple’s fifth time seeing the band, they explained - Punk Rock Bowling, Pirates Press Records’ Anniversary Party, SoCal gigs, West Coast tour runs - basically, anytime the lads in Grade 2 came around west of Texas they’d travel as many miles as they had to in order to see them.

Hailing from the UK’s Isle of Wight, the bovver boys in Grade 2 stopped through beloved punk venue Bottom of the Hill on a Tuesday night recently in San Francisco with New Jersey art punks Crazy and the Brains and LA post punk inspired outfit Slaughterhouse, both along for the ride on their 2023 national tour.

And, similar to the blended family I had just met, Jacob, Jack and Sid also seemed to be onto a new chapter with the band, with a stage show that’s matured just as much as the lads themselves have over the years, flexing elevated musicianship and skill levels while pummeling through a set list of over 20 songs to promote their new self titled album out on Hellcat/Epitaph Records.

Playing to a crowd lurking with local punk rock elite like Matt Freeman of Rancid, Paul Rivas of the Old Firm Casuals, and some of the Pirate’s Press Records staff, it seems as if singer/bass player Sid Ryan has become the official frontman of the band as of late. Well spoken and engaging, he won the crowd over with cheeky old English humor between songs before ripping back into the set.

And speaking of Matt Freeman, Ryan has apparently upped his bass playing prowess big time over the past few years, shredding into his rig while trading off on vocals with guitar player Jack Chatfield. The sheer speed and complexity of the riffs he’s come up with on this new album are impressive alone, much less performed live whilst belting out vocals. Having Freeman in the audience him made him really nervous, Ryan confessed, but who wouldn’t be nervous in that scenario? IKYKYK.

I’m sure the “Maxwell Murder” impresario was indeed impressed, however, because their set just short of two dozen songs was dazzling to witness overall. Starting off strong with “Judgement Day”, they seamlessly flowed into new hit “Only Ones I Trust” then blasted through a good amount of songs on the new album which are all harder, faster, and way more nuanced than their past work in terms of the obvious bovver influences emanating from each track.

At around the 3/4s mark they pulled a classic Misfits cover out of their sleeve in that “rite of passage” sort of way which both delighted their fans and was a proper segway into favorites “Bowling Green Lane”, “Under the Streetlight”, “Tired of It”, “Graveyard Island”, and finally “Pubwatch”, which closed out the set to a massive ovation from a thrilled audience. Their energy was both infectious and unwavering throughout the set and it’s no surprise that they’ve been picked to help support Rancid and their new album on their only US tour dates later this year.

Compared to when I saw them during one of their last visits to the Bay Area at Rock the Ship Festival 2019, the maturity the last few years has brought is obvious as they criss-crossed the stage, Tim and Lars style, swapping mike stand positions more often than they’d switch off on vocals.

“We’ve got Oasis demos, we’ve got Jam covers, they’ve been there since the beginning actually, but we’ve been hesitant to release them.” Sid told me when I was finally able to pull him aside for a moment. “On” all night long, talking to fans, taking selfies with them, and generally working the room, he reminded me a lot of Lars Fredricksen whenever approached by fans in public. It wasn’t until the show was over and the crowd had dispersed a little that I was able to grab him for some photos and a little chat - and I was lucky to get even that with the amount of well wishers still hanging around.

Jack, the lanky legged, furrowed-brow, Samba wearing, taller than you’d expect in real life guitar player wasn’t in the mood for much chatting but I never fault a musician for being cheeky or cocky after a show, as it’s the most hectic time of the entire evening. Drummer Jacob didn’t say a word the entire time, but his bright, expressive eyes and gentle demeanor communicated all I needed to know from him. Something tells me that he possesses the duality of quiet calm and necessary intensity that both binds and centers this band.

“Your audience, they’re like the ultimate test market you know. I bet you anything that if you released one of those Oasis demos, or played a Jam cover live, your fans would go nuts.” I said, giving Sid my best unsolicited PR advice.

“Just lean into it.” - that last tidbit seemed to have caught his attention, his entire expression changing from dubious to thoughtful. He had to help with load out so our chat got cut short, but I left the show looking forward to seeing what Grade 2 does in their 3rd chapter.

I sat down with New Jersey art punks Crazy and the Brains for an interview recently where lead singer Christoph Jesus told me all about just how he got into punk rock, and what influences his overall aesthetic. And by art punk I mean both extremely conceptual, and performative. If Lady GaGa is considered “art pop”, then this rowdy 5 piece outfit from Jersey City are the reigning kings of east coast art punk.

“I guess I’m just a product of kind of how you said earlier, like, the way I grew up. Hip hop and rap music were my first love musically, so fashion wise, there was definitely influence. That’s why you’ll see me wearing gold chains and stuff like that. And then like, punk had an influence too because really, the early Vivienne Westwood and the Sex Pistols and The Clash and the X-Ray Spex and all that - I love the way that they dress because it was just… really flamboya-...”

“Oh!” he interrupts himself. “And David Bowie, and stuff like that like, it was just really flamboyant and not ridiculous but like - for lack of a better word, ridiculous, you know? It’s kind of like expressing yourself in the most extreme sense that you can because I feel like sometimes you struggle with being able to get yourself heard. So you just take it to the extreme.”

I’ve spoken a lot of chapters in this review and it seems that Christoph Jesus and co. are quickly starting new ones of their own with their third tour through the San Francisco Bay Area in the past calendar year: with GoGo Bordello, a small club jaunt this past winter, and now a national tour with Grade 2.

Crazy and the Brains is the only punk-related band that I can think of that has actively used the xylophone in their music. And speaking again of chapters, that’s exactly how the band started out: as a 2 piece, with Christoph on the acoustic guitar and vocals and his former bandmate on the rarely seen percussion device doing the small club folk punk and open mic circuits in New York City.

“We started just the two of us, then as years progressed we started adding more people, so many people have come and gone over the years and yeah, you know the xylophone isn’t gonna be a part of much of the music I’m making now, it’s still that same spirit and that same energy and that same mentality is always going to be a consummate with the music that I make because I can’t copy it’s just like… it’s just not like my style.”

Fast forward to 2023 and the xylophone has evolved into the organ, and while they were short a keyboard player for the first handful of gigs (Ali Presses was on a run with her main band, Stop the Presses) the group still triumphed as a 4 piece, jumping, pogoing, running in place, and scissor kicking their way through a rambunctious set of 10 or so songs that gave off an energy of well orchestrated chaos.

“It’s been really cool and she’s fuckin’ amazing and a really cool person, super amazing artist, super super prolific musician and it’s crazy because like, I never really pictured doing music without Jeff, because I’d known him my whole life, like we’ve known each other since like third grade. And like, playing music together started with him. So like, even the thought of… to even think of playing music without him was like, I couldn’t even imagine.”

“And then the perfect person came along,” he continued. “Like I don’t think… I’m not sure how it would have worked if it were anyone else,” he admits. “Ali’s just like the perfect fit. I’m really excited for the future. Ali’s literally the perfect collaborator. Like, I really couldn’t imagine… it’s a crazy blessing that we found each other.”

Dressed in his signature striped sailor shirt and hat, Mr. C. Jesus wasted no time as he led the band through songs like “Good Boy”, “I Dont Deliver Pizza Anymore”, Teddybears cover “I’m a Punk Rocker”, as well as new material off the new Crazy and the Brains EP coming in August of this year. Bonus points go out to his guitar player for dying his hair and matching his pants to the exact same shades of neon green and tomato red as their tour backdrop banner, which Jesus also hand painted with his own artwork.

I've been following LA's post-punk and dark wave tinged hardcore punk band Slaughterhouse since at least 2019, possibly 2018 and caught vocalist Veronica's very first show with them.

"We found her on Craigslist", they replied when I asked where they found such a powerhouse, force of nature type of a lead singer. Fast forward to mid 2023 and Veronica has exited the band, much to mine and many others’ chagrin, and now the search is on to find a permanent replacement.

Stepping into what are now definitely big combat boots to fill, Jenna Reynoza of Southern CA outfit Street Play has taken over the role seamlessly for this run, with her big, haunting voice more than substituting for Veronica's very Siouxie-esque feral belting, bringing a chaotic kind of energy to the dynamic of a very “serious” band, and gives them more of a Scowl kind of vibe overall.

According to bass player Eddie Cairnes, there is no permanent new lead singer yet. With a rotating roster of drummers sitting in behind the kit depending on different tour schedule constellations, Slaughterhouse is looking for a full time lead vocalist. If there is a candidate better than Jenna, I'm eager to see who it is.

Speaking of rotating band members, Slaughterhouse “principal” drummer Nick Aguilar was on tour with whatever band has main custody of him this month. (I’ve lost track) His energy can only be replicated by Bam Bam the great Hunter Martinez of Decent Criminal who usually steps in when Aguilar is called away on other business.

All that said, both Martinez and Aguliar were on the road and unavailable to drum, leaving Mike Cambra (Death By Stereo, The Adolescents) sitting in, who seemed like he was lacking in energy and possibly even a little nervous. I’ve seen MC drum in his other bands several times and he’s usually a monster so it’s pretty easy to see when his energy is off. Either way, he kept up with the band and they played most of the popular songs off record Fun Factory including personal faves “Micro Manage” and “Seasons”.

I’ve been following Slaughterhouse closely as the years have gone by and it’s been wonderful to see them on some of the big BIG festivals and arena sized stages I knew they were destined to be on years ago. I doubt it will take them another four years for them to really catch on, they’re a band’s band, musician’s musicians, who conjure an energy onstage that castsa spell over their audiences.

I’d be surprised to hear someone say that this isn’t a hands down excellent band who are making a timeless sort of music. Once they get their line up solidified, another exciting chapter will start for them again, and there’s a good chance it'll be better than they could have imagined.

At the end of the day, Grade 2, Crazy and the Brains, and Slaughterhouse are all very different sounding bands.


Lynn at Bottom of the Hill was so clever when she booked this show, because she knew that all three bands appeal to the same sort of underground punk fans who have a more acquired and nuanced taste. These are not your “starter” punk rock bands whatsoever but anyone could appreciate any of these bands because they’re all so unique.

“I don’t know not to get too like you know like spiritual or you know like…”

“Manifestation.” I remark.

“But I… the universe just brought us together at the right time, you know? So, yeah, I’m stoked on the future.” - Christoph Jesus, Crazy and the Brains.