The Districts entered a stage populated by mannequins with heads cut off and replaced with heat lamps, clutching a jug of water in one hand and a guitar in the other. A group of kids barely out of high school, singing for a crowd mostly pushing thirty, screaming their lungs out and drinking their minds blank. Stuffed into the narrow black rectangle that is DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel, where the sound bounced a little too much and views were perpetually blocked by someone taller’s shoulders. When the swaying chanced to offer a window to the stage, you could see their singer often nearly doubled over, attacking his guitar strings, or three steps away from the microphone, leaning to the point of nearly toppling over, seemingly defying gravity by shouting into the crowd. Most young singers would have this turn into a scream-fest, but despite the obvious outpouring, the vocals never strayed into chaos. Pathos of the inflections intact, you could even make out most of the lyrics.
The Districts write great songs and they play with impressive energy, but in watching them for just a few minutes, you get the feeling that their understanding goes deeper than that. Great bands can tap into a certain dichotomy live. That it’s just music, that we all just happen to be here on the same night and it’s nothing to shout home about; it’s a trifling matter and a life or death situation. That seeing someone rip out their soul, scream it to the crowd, and then for those same people to soak it in and shout it back to the stage can feel like the most important act in the world. That anything could happen at any moment, even if all that happens is some noise blasting out a speaker. It’s a quality that the best live bands achieve without even trying. The Districts aren’t there yet, but you can see the dynamic there, and it’s a thrilling thing to watch.
The show wasn’t perfect; pacing was a major problem. Each time the energy of the room started to hit a cathartic high, the song ended and we were treated to sometimes 3 or 4 minutes of the band gathering themselves, tuning their guitars (again?!?) and chugging water. Still, hearing a room full of people scream into the rafters, “Long distance, long time! Isn’t easier!” building to sweaty fans jumping maniacally to 4th And Roebling, ending on a slow burn group chant of the chorus, “I ain’t the same any more, I’m not the same as before…” a proper show closing cures all imperfections. The only thing that matters is that nothing outside that cramped black room does. Like the best arena rockers, they’re able to take a song soaked in regret and weariness and turn it into an affirmation, a couple hundred people connected for a night, ever so slightly changed.