Playing in Philadelphia on one of the coldest nights of the year, local favorites The Lawsuits and Pine Barons both warmed up an audience who had turned out in droves to see them play alongside The Districts. Filling their set with, “Sweet Marcelle,” “Anybody’s Girl,” and “Onion,” The Lawsuits blithely galvanized an audience who was still shaking off the cold, warmly harmonizing over the cutting guitars of Brian Dale Allen Strouse and Joe Bissiri. Picking up where they left off, Pine Barons tore through a set of stirring indie rock, infusing songs like “Since I’ve Been Away,” with a visceral imagery that matched the energy and drive of the band’s sound. Yet when the groups finished and the house lights came up, barley anyone in the standing room only audience left to find the bar. Instead, the crowd inched up closer and closer towards the stage, primed and ready to continue what would be remembered as a remarkable night of unforgettable performances.
At its very best, music is capable of expressing what the mortal man can’t possibly begin to convey on his own. And in that sense, stepping towards a microphone and parting your lips is to genuinely summon something that just doesn’t feel as true without a melody to cradle your message. Appearing onstage at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer last Saturday night (02-14-15) The Districts stepped towards their microphones, cradling their own authenticity and truth within a rhythm section that could start a fire. Separated by spotlights, guitarist Pat Cassidy, singer-guitarist Rob Grote, drummer Braden Lawrence and bassist Connor Jacobus played with notable credence, stridently bridging the gap between the heartfelt and the volatile. For most bands, strengths and weaknesses are immediately apparent. But when running on all four cylinders, The Districts play with a searing dominance and control that can almost feel preordained.
As smoke spread over Union Transfer’s stage like a curtain, each member of The Districts gradually emerged, their faces materializing behind their microphones as if they were rising from the ruins. As the opening notes of “Rocking Chair,” flooded through the venue, the same faces that were lost in a haze of wreckage were suddenly marked and alive. Swaying and dropping their instruments to a diving melody, Cassidy, Grote, Lawrence and Jacobus created a raucous atmosphere fueled by spontaneity and impulse. And since most of them have been bandmates since high school, The Districts effortlessly displayed the type of musical symmetry and congruity that can only exist when performers become aware of their talents together.
Violently pushing his electric guitar away from his chest, lead singer Rob Grote erratically moved around the stage with a concentrated, surging force. And though his guitar was properly secured and tethered to the instrument’s strap, the mountain of black electrical tape would suggest that he’s lost it before. Crashing like waves, The Districts performed with abandon, hypnotizing the audience with the understated beauty of “Lyla,” and the pounding fortitude of “Callbox.” And by musically reacting to the character and emotion of each individual song, their compositions captured a near deafening urgency and undeniable compassion.
Built on wiry guitar tones and a drumbeat that lands like a punch, “4th and Roebling,” is the first single off their brand new album, A Flourish and a Spoil. While performing the song, Grote held up his guitar before pleading into his mic:
“I ain’t the same from before, I ain’t the same anymore, you only changed I’m sure, I’m trying to find the right words…”
The audience shouted along in unison, helping the band to convey the wounding pain of outgrowing your surroundings. Pushing at his microphone stand, Grote catapulted himself forward with such force that it was a wonder he didn’t wind up in the audience.
“We’ve played a handful of shows here, but I don’t think any of us expected this…Can’t wait to play for you again.”
As the end of the night drew near, Grote held out his hands and gestured towards the crowd, thanking everyone in attendance for making it a sold-out show. He barely finished his remarks before the audience erupted in cheers, throwing their arms up in the air with the same excitement that made them line up outside just hours before, gleefully willing to freeze in order to enter the venue first. And by playing their hearts out until it was nearly midnight, The Districts enchanted the audience by vividly preserving the gentle poetry and biting callousness of their music.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips