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The Districts Map Out A Bold Rock ‘n’ Roll Sound

Originally published on KDHX.org

There are a lot of stories about Pennsylvania-based rockers the Districts.

How about the fact they are barely drinking age? Or that they already have a killer first full-length album released on Fat Possum records? Or that they’ve had their tour van broken into twice in less than a year when playing in St. Louis? That story delivered a serious blow to St. Louis’ growing music reputation. In fact, many of us were holding our breath, hoping that another robbery didn’t happen again, but everything ended up fine. The Districts proved that they love our town, and their fans here packed the house last night at Off Broadway.

Local act Search Parties opened the evening, and though it was my first time seeing Search Parties, I can now confirm the rumors of their excellence. I could see this band opening for the Districts on a longer stretch of their tour, as they share a similar aesthetic in style and song structure. The band relies on melody, in both their echo-laden riffs and vocal lines. A tight group with two EPs under their belts, this will be a band to watch in 2015.

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New Jersey band Pine Barons emphasizes creative diversity. This is another young group with a developed sound that touches a broad swath of genres, on anything from punk to jazz. At their quieter times, the band reminded me of the Shins, while still maintaining the full-on quirk of Vampire Weekend. Drummer Colin Smith was mesmerizing, tearing through a dizzying display of heavy beats while singing back-up vocals. At some point, I swear he was using his head to hit the snare drum.

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When the main attraction hit the stage, I suddenly noticed that the crowd was full of high school girls and college kids. Where did all these people come from? The Districts didn’t waste any time taking their places and gearing up. The band had even fashioned their own light show behind them, comprised of several half-mannequins, their heads replaced with giant headlamps that flashed during the highs and lows. With a simple hello into the microphone, the band kicked things off. Lead singer/guitarist Robbie Grote sported thrift-store finds, his hair tucked beneath a beanie. When he sings, he belts it. And from the first few chords of “Rocking Chair” he’s turned on, ecstatic. The beanie fell off immediately and went missing the rest of the night. His grit and growl was determined. “Things ain’t what they used to be,” he crooned, as adoring girls up front sang with him.

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Grote has his performing chops nailed down, whether he was stepping off the top of the kick drum, swinging his guitar around like he’s clearing the room of zombies, or flipping his mad professor afro back and forth. Towards the end of the set, he stood on an amp in the back, looming over the stage, his shadow reaching to the farthest edge of the room. By “Lyla” (from the self-titled EP), the band is in full workout mode. Bassist Conor Jacobus and drummer Braden Lawrence aren’t flashy, but remain solid in the rhythm section, never letting up on the driving force behind the melodies, while fellow guitarist Pat Cassidy holds out long chords. The music swells and rides, ebbs and flows, and by the time they play the opening lines from their new single, “4th and Roebling,” Grote has the crowd bought and paid for.

The Districts closed out the set with “Silver Couplets” (from a BBC Sessions EP). The song started slow and built to a fever pitch, with the band trashing most of their gear on stage at the end of the blaring feedback. Chalk up another great story to this brilliant young band.

 

 

 

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