Chicago – While patiently waiting to see the baby-faced PA boys of The Districts, a group of college kids talked conspiracy theories, asserting Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain and Biggie and Tupac faked their deaths. The band they were “so psyched” to see has been bringing the blues to countless millennials… and Gen-Xers, too. Even Baby Boomers. Friday night, the sold-out show at Lincoln Hall was packed with quite the interesting mix of fans, proving music has no age limits.
When The Districts walked out on stage, a few drunken 20-somethings in the mid-section went crazy. One of the guys screamed, “Yeah, Robbie! I love you, Robbie!” Vocalist and guitarist Rob Grote shyly said hello. The soft-spoken frontman proved to be far from bashful once his guitar was in hand. He growled into the mic singing, “If I drink some more, I think I might drown.” Grote violently jerked around the stage. His hat fell to the floor. He and his bandmates jumped about to “Rocking Chair.”
These spirited indie rockers originally hail from the small town of Lititz, in Lancaster County, amidst the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country. The band formed while Grote, bassist Conor Jacobus, drummer Braden Lawrence, and guitarist Mark Larson were still teenagers in high school. Between studying chemistry and algebra, they self-released two EPs, and in 2012, released their debut Telephone. Cut to 2015. They’ve since signed with Fat Possum, moved to Philly, replaced Larson with Pat Cassidy, and just this month they released their sophomore album A Flourish And A Spoil, to which Best New Bands declared its underlying tone “is a concrete foundation built on bitter despair, yet it is done so poetically and with such admirable fervor that it has the ability to feel and sound refreshingly empowering to anyone who listens to it.”
The Districts played plenty of songs off A Flourish And A Spoil, like “ Hounds,” “Chlorine,” and “4th and Roebling.” The latter brought a hearty bass line that prompted the drunken men from earlier to jump up and down and push their way to the front. These men would later start a mini mosh pit – yes, a mosh pit at a show filled with bluesy, folksy indie rock – and wildly thrash about. Although to be fair, the band does it’s own fair share of thrashing about.
The guys also played some oldies, such as “Long Distance” and “Lyla,” pleasing plenty of fans. What was most impressive though, was when Grote stood by himself, under the spotlight, strumming his acoustic guitar, and singing “Suburban Smell.” The occasional chatter in the room grew silent. Grote’s passionate voice carried through the hall, bleeding emotion.
Of course The Districts performed their beloved “Funeral Beds.” When Grote grabbed his harmonica, fans screamed in excitement. Some began to clap. Many swayed to the beat. As the song picked up, people started bopping up and down. Afterward, the foursome left the stage. Grote returned for a solo encore of “6 AM,” but the rest of the band joined him for an all-out jam session of “Young Blood.” At first it was a little reminiscent of their friends and fellow Philly musicians Dr. Dog, but halfway through the song, they all became unhinged. Lawrence violently drummed, while Jacobus, Cassidy, and Grote strummed madly, thumping all over the wood stage, sometimes bumping into each other. Their hair whipped back and forth. Then Grote climbed atop one of the speakers, where he rocked out on guitar, before jumping back down onto the worn, wooden boards. People hollered and clapped in applause. It was splendid.
Photos of The Districts by Sarah Hess
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.