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The Districts deliver stronger performance live than in studio

By Andrew Elmers

Section: Arts

February 27, 2015

There is something truly amazing and inspiring about seeing live music. Maybe it’s simply a result of the exhaustion that sets in after standing in the same place for two hours instead of just listening to the album, but you gain a greater appreciation for the band after doing so.

I experienced this phenomenon two weeks ago after checking out The Districts at the Sinclair in Cambridge. The Districts have been getting a lot more notice after releasing their second album “A Flourish and a Spoil” on Feb. 9. Originally from Amish country in Lancaster County, PA, they have since relocated to Philadelphia and are now appearing on late-night television and headlining tours.

Playing a mix of songs from their first two releases—“Telephone” and “A Flourish and A Spoil”—The Districts kept up their energy throughout, barely taking breaks between songs even though there were some technical difficulties with the drumkit. Lead singer Rob Grote was all over the stage, waving around his floppy mop of curly hair. Be it “Hounds,” with its repetitive bridge that just thumps your eardrums, or “4th and Roebling,” the lead single from their latest album, I was stomping my feet and nodding my head in rhythm the entire time.

“A Flourish and a Spoil” showcases The Districts’ improved quality since their debut. The production values sound more professional and the songs are better thought out compared to their debut album, which sounds like something recorded by a bunch of teenagers. Because that’s what they are, for the most part: The oldest member of The Districts is 21, and for a group of guys that graduated high school only two years ago to be headlining shows at venues like the Sinclair and Bowery Ballroom in New York is a huge accomplishment.

That isn’t to say that their debut album is something to overlook. One major difference I noticed between the two is that their first album seemed to consist of songs that all fit together stylistically. They could all be placed into that same box of folk rock, with some tracks featuring harmonica and just having more of that roots feel. Probably a result of their origins from Lancaster County, the songs from their first album featured a lot more intricate guitar work. Relocating to Philadelphia changed the sound of the band a bit. The songs on “A Flourish and A Spoil” are straight modern rock. They’ve abandoned that sort of working-class quality, and with that, a way to connect all the tracks together.

Listening through The Districts’ second album is a bit difficult when you think of all the minor changes that each song consists of. No two songs on the album really sound like they would be on the same album, and the band takes a lot of liberties in trying out different styles. “Chlorine” is a slow-building, arena-rock type of song that would be a great anthem for some post-grunge band from the early 2000s, but The Districts aren’t that band. “Young Blood,” on the other hand, is a nine-minute epic that features great guitar solos and is a more linear evolution from their first album. “Telephone” was an album; “A Flourish and A Spoil” is more a collection of songs.

Not that they’re bad songs, though. The Districts played “Young Blood” as their encore performance at the Sinclair, and it was probably my most memorable live music experience. Although I haven’t seen the widest variety of acts, the performance they gave made my entire night. I was blown away by it and left the venue believing I just saw the next big thing in music.

Another great thing about heading out to see concerts is discovering new music from the opening acts. Vundabar, a local band from Massachusetts playing only for the night, was terrific as a first act. The front man was extremely charismatic joking with the crowd and just goofing off while playing guitar, their brand of rock was awesome, and they knew exactly what they were, which is nice to hear from a smaller band. Pine Barons, hailing from the pine barrens of South Jersey, are the tourmates of The Districts for this entire tour, and while some of their songs were easy to get into, and I later downloaded them, they still seemed to be finding their sound.

But The Districts were the reason I bought the ticket, and I came out of the show feeling like it was more than worth the price of admission. A band with a terrific stage presence playing upbeat, driving songs that is just having fun out there is what makes checking out a concert so much better than simply listening to the album. I gained so much more love for all of the songs they played, and I am definitely going to make the effort to get out and see more live shows. Be it The Districts or some other band passing through, the live music experience is something that won’t die from the changes in the music industry. Live music can never be beat.

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