Defying Appearances: The Districts at DC9, 12/3

December 9, 2016

Photo: Fat Possum Records

The Districts didn’t look like they should be taken seriously. The band passed around a bottle of wine, each member taking a small sip. Frontman Rob Grote had a thin mustache and wore a light green button-down with lightning bolt and star patches sewn on the front. This awkward group of 20-somethings looked like they should be sitting at home watching TV, not standing with instruments on a concert stage.

That was the scene the night of Saturday, Dec. 3 at DC9, when The Districts defied their appearance and stunned a sold-out crowd with an energetic and emotional performance.

The Philadelphia-based rock band, made up of Grote, guitarist Pat Cassidy, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence, initially formed in Lititz, Pennsylvania, in the rural and amish-populated Lancaster County. The simple, country-folk stereotype may have come through in their appearance, but from the moment they started their set with “4th and Roebling,” it was clear that it wouldn’t show up in their music.

Oftentimes when rock bands play in a small venue like DC9, the instruments blend together and sound muddled. The Districts, however, expertly separated booming power chords that reverberated across the concert hall from delightful guitar melodies that were as intricate as they were catchy. The result was an unexpectedly accurate representation of the band’s recorded songs that still contained the raw energy of live music.

Nowhere was this blend of clarity and energy clearer than when the band surprisingly played one of their most popular songs, “Young Blood,” just a few songs into their set.

After a pair of soothing verses and a head-banging chorus, the song cut out and then slowly built up. A solitary bassline played and was joined by a wailing guitar melody. Waves of cymbals and a second, heavier guitar completed the arrangement, and before long the venue was shaking back and forth. Finally, with the music still raging, Grote, in a choppy and exasperated voice, broke into the repeated refrain: “It’s a long way down from the top to the bottom / It’s a long way back to a high from where I am.”

By this point the crowd was wild. People were jumping up and down recklessly and screaming the lyrics. The bassist from the opening band, Tangiers, crowd-surfed his way towards the stage and was lifted high enough that he hung from the low ceiling. When he let himself down onto the awaiting arms of some fans, audience members were sent sprawling onto the floor. One particular man fell onto the stage, where he knocked over an amp. With painful distortion now screeching across the venue, the song abruptly ended before it could reach its true conclusion. But no one really cared; they were witnessing a moment of rock concert glory, and nothing else mattered.

The rest of the show never quite matched this ecstatic moment, but it was still filled with plenty of excitement.

Midway through their set, the band debuted a handful of new songs, hinting that a new release might be coming in the not too distant future. During these songs, the audience’s boundless energy was replaced with beaming smiles, as the exceptional new songs showed that the band’s musical masterpieces up to now had been no fluke.

To ensure that the show ended on a high note, The Districts returned for an encore to play fan favorites “Bold” and “Funeral Beds.” Once again the crowd was dancing and singing, inspired by “Bold”’s thundering floor tom and “Funeral Beds”’ simple yet elegant chord progression. When the last song faded out and the venue let out a collective exhale of exhaustion, the band left the stage by hopping down into the audience in front of them.

To this audience, they were rock stars who had created excitement and power and emotion with their music. But to an unsuspecting observer, they were just some guys from middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, now faceless and unnoteworthy in the crowd that admired them.

Jon Block
Jon was podcast editor, Halftime leisure editor, and Halftime sports editor for the Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @jon_block_ but not on Instagram because he doesn't have one.

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