The Districts bring stately garage rock to 9:30 Club

A review of one of the final DC concerts before mass-closures for coronavirus set in

The+Districts+perform+%22Hey+Jo%22+from+their+latest+LP+%22You+Know+I%27m+Not+Going+Anywhere%2C%22+released+today.+%28Photo+by+Colter+Adams%29

The Districts perform "Hey Jo" from their latest LP "You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere," released today. (Photo by Colter Adams)

Colter Adams, Managing Editor

Rob Grote is pretty scrappy even for an indie-rock superstar. T-shirt half-tucked into his sweats, wild curly hair flopping, he’s the kind of guy you’d expect to lather up in reverb, and sulk-sing at the back of the stage. 

But even as he ambled through his soundcheck, muttering dirty jokes into his mic and landing a few kicks to a humming amp, there was something electric about the Districts’ frontman. Guitar slung callously over his shoulder, he struck me as a sort of indie-punk gunslinger; tired and burnt out, but with a reservoir of power hidden behind his small frame. 

It turns out, Grote’s attitude and aesthetic are all a ploy. When the band burst into its first track “Funeral Beds,” he practically rose off the ground from the strength of his gorgeous soaring voice and gargantuan stage presence. 

A few seconds in, the frontman could have easily leaped from the stage and sailed over the frenzied crowd. After two oddball openers (Scorpio and Sixteen Jackies), his fans were ready for something recognizable, and Grote’s deep whiskey-drenched voice satiated each one in seconds. 

The Districts are a gritty, dirty band perfectly suited for 9:30 Club’s storied, shambly warehouse. Complementing the white columns that plaster the cement walls of the building, the band layers regal harmonies and compositions over noisy distorted scuzz.

The highlights of the night were the songs that took full advantage of not only Grote’s sweeping vocals, but Connor Jacobus and Braden Lawrence’s swift and technical rhythm section, and Pat Cassidy’s subdued but brilliant guitar work. 

Take the band’s opus: “Young Blood.” From the cutting opening guitar lick to Grote and Cassidy’s dueling melodies, to the three slow-building crescendo choruses, there was not a single wasted note on the seven-minute song. On the eminently-danceable “4th and Roebling,” steady bass and intricate drums were the focal points, as Grote and Cassidy sprinkled melodies and stream-of-consciousness lyrics in the margins of the music. 

In a city on edge, there’s an ironic comfort and comradery in standing shoulder-to-shoulder for loud, bareboned rock n’ roll. Sure, every person in that building made a poor decision attending a concert in the midst of a national epidemic, but the Districts transformed a lack of foresight into a bold form of protest.

On the chorus of “Long Distance,” as Grote howled lines like “Aching fears corrupt my mind” and “Reach around and pull away my spine / If it’ll make me feel alright” the Districts weathered the blows of stress and anxiety for their audience. As we swayed and smiled, I’m sure our gratitude was tangible.