Bold: The Districts Take Charge at Union Transfer

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The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

Even though I’ve seen The Districts five or six times in the past year, Saturday night was something else entirely. Anyone who’s seen them—whether it was at the Church or XPNFest or somebody’s basement or warehouse—knows that they put on one hell of a show. But where The Districts strength has previously seemed to flow from an introspective fount, the very sold-out release show for A Flourish and A Spoil on Saturday night at Union Transfer seemed powered by a limitless well of incredible proportions.

A line of a few hundred faithful formed down Spring Garden Street a couple hours before doors, waiting in zero-degree windchill and gusts of howling arctic wind to secure a good spot for the Lititz transplants turned local leaders. Even though a sold-out Union Transfer doesn’t have any bad sightlines, the chill would definitely prove to be worth it by the end of the evening.

Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
PIne Barons | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

As folks warmed up to some traditional Americana tunes over the PA, I headed backstage to briefly check in with the guys. Besides from having a legit green room this time around, everything was exactly as it would be at any of their other gigs—a few friends sharing some laughs, and taking to the sidestage to watch their friends in The Lawsuits and Pine Barons crushing it on the UT stage.

Speaking of which—have you all seen these two bands recently? I can’t recall exactly when the last time that I saw either was, but oh man have I been sleeping. The Lawsuits got things kicked off with a snappy set of tunes that mixed crooning with straight-up ruling. Lead guitarist Brian Dale Allen Strouse powered through massive guitar parts with luscious locks flying, then sidled up to the mic, seamlessly transitioning to harmonizing with vocalist Vanessa Winters. After they finished, Pine Barons quickly followed up. I vaguely remembered PB as a quite bluesy, more southern-influenced sound, but that was either inaccurate, or left somewhere along the wayside since the last time I saw them. While definitely containing folk-y elements, Pine Barons expands on the genre in every possible way, infusing elements of psych and other more post-modern indie influencers.

The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

A set change was the only thing left between the fans and The Districts. While he was setting up his gear, Robbie gave some girls in the front row high fives, which elicited high pitched screams. That means they’re real rockstars now, right? I saw Rob chuckle as he turned away and couldn’t help but laugh along with him. After lots of backslapping and hugs between bands backstage, it was time. Everyone was ready, knowing smiles to be seen everywhere you looked in the packed house—and among the band of friends in the small group. Taking the stage to cheers and screams, they waved politely and got to work. It was as if the Union Transfer stage was made for them. The perfect amount of space allowed Grote to flail around, firing off hot licks from his guitar, wending his way back to the microphone to pull back his hair and throw down verse after verse of deeply personal musical poetry.

There was something more in Saturday’s performance. I still can’t put my finger on it. Everything was as tight-knit as ever, the jams a massive sprawling soundscape that Grote’s lyricism lives and breathes within. But for all the good memories I have of seeing The Districts, this show was a head and shoulders beyond any prior. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the level of excitement from the fans was what really pushed it to the max.

The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
The Districts | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

There were people going word-for-word with every lyric on an album that had only come out four days before the show, while other fans were raging as if Union Transfer was just an enormous basement party show. During the encore, Robbie jumped off of the stage and stomped around in the audience with his guitar—a new trick, even for someone with already impossibly high showmanship.

They may not have started here, but Philadelphia built The Districts. Even though the heartbreaking power of their lyricism strays towards the introspective and melancholy, the band clearly draws its strength from the community. We couldn’t be more in love with them—we even spent Valentines Day evening with them, how romantic—and it seems the feeling is perpetually mutual.

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