The Philly power pop quartet make quite the impression on their UK debut
Live music is by-and-large a joyful experience. There are exceptions, sure, but the nights that usually stick out are the ones that offer a free goofy grin with every ticket. If that ticket’s for a 2nd Grade show, it should come with a warning: Will contain high levels of charisma and joy throughout.
The best way to sum the band up is to look around the room. Against one wall is a guy with long greying hair and a Lemonheads shirt. Against the other are mulleted 20-somethings with their t-shirts tucked in and white ankle socks pulled all the way up. The Philly quartet are for those who cling to the glory days of power pop – when Alex Chilton sang wistfully of walking his high school girlfriend home from school – and those who are drawn to smart, charmingly twee indie pop littered with film references. In between those two poles are the Teenage Fanclub fans, who will down this stuff like it’s Irn-Bru.
Peter Gill on stage with 2nd Grade at The Lexington
The last few years have been kind to 2nd Grade, and deservedly so. They arrive in the UK on the back of their wonderful third record, Easy Listening, and a steadily building momentum that suggests much more to come. Clad in a loose, paint-stained t-shirt, shorts and 60s sunglasses, frontman Peter Gill walks out onto The Lexington’s stage like he’s been pulled away from painting the deck. Around him is one of the most deceptively tight bands you’re likely to see. Guitarist Jon Samuels looks like he’s having as much fun as anyone else in the room, ripping out a couple of solos that elicit enthusiastic whoops.
What’s quickly apparent is that, across their three records, 2nd Grade have a repertoire that’s close to unbeatable. The ridiculously massive ‘Cover Of Rolling Stone’ launches the set and from there it’s just wall-to-wall hooks, all played with a laidback charm and the kind of rough edges that suggest Pavement or Guided By Voices covering Big Star. Gill is a beaming presence in the middle of it all, so devoid of contrivance that he might be the coolest frontman in indie rock.
You can sense the joy spreading around the room, like a radiant Ready Brek glow. Gill gushes about a visit to the Tate Modern, following it with a new song, written for artist Joan Mitchell. Melodic wonderment abounds in the form of ‘Velodrome’, ‘Super Glue’ and the cheekily sardonic ‘Teenage Overpopulation’. The band depart only to return in record time with an exuberant cover of Big Star’s ‘In The Street’, played to one of the few rooms where very few think, “Oh yay, the That 70s Show theme song”.
Marie Kondo told us to throw away anything that doesn’t spark joy. Let this be the signal to open your doors to 2nd Grade and cherish them forever.