What marks the distinction between a festival headliner and a band at the bottom of the undercard? In a concert at the High Noon Saloon Tuesday night, The Districts made the case that it’s not talent alone. A prototypical midday-at-a-festival band, the Philadelphia natives showcased not only their instrumental finesse, but a palpable star power. If you haven’t heard of them yet, don’t be surprised to see them creep up festival lineups in the coming years.
In the show, The Districts toed the line between garage rock and commercial polish. At times they were folksy and melodic; sometimes, they delivered stadium-style anthems. Often, they simply jammed out.
There’s a certain tension between their blues-infused playful jamming and their pop hooks, because they’re great yet inconsistent in both capacities. Many of their songs were highlighted by pounding, instrumental digressions; other times such excursions devolved into cluttered noise, and they often lost the audience when they slowed down the pace. Sometimes their hooks had a magnetic, indie-movie-montage quality; other times, they lacked clarity. Ballads such as “4th and Roebling” and “Chlorine” presented the best of both qualities: instrumental riffs that got the crowd going, but memorable choruses that they’d still be humming tomorrow, too.
The Districts are what would happen if The Killers and Twin Peaks could procreate, and that’s only a partial complement. Their sneering grunginess is engaging, and their softer pop tendencies are, too. This combination creates a pretty unique sound, but it felt like, at some point, they will have to pick a direction if they’re ever going to break through.
Their inability to gain popularity, though, certainly won’t be constrained by a lack of charisma. Uniformly shaggy-haired, the band has a certain wayward looseness that makes them easy to connect with, and they jam out with a sense of delight and control. Lead singer Rob Grote is a star-in-waiting. He has a concurrent panache and humility, an endearing puppy-dog smile and rocking-out face that looks as if he’s having a religious awakening.
The crowd did little to respond to this onstage charm, though. Maybe it’s because it was a Tuesday night, but the monochromatic sea of head-bobbing, well-dressed hipsters was remarkably quiet. I’m not sure that it was The Districts’ fault; on some of their more lively songs, the crowd was pretty well captivated. But the crowd’s attention came and went, and I guess part of that falls on the band’s jumbled sonic focus.
The Districts chose not to play “Funeral Beds,” one of their biggest songs from their first release that fueled their rise. It’s also, in my opinion, still their best song. I was disappointed not to hear it, but it’s understandable. As a band sorting out a muddled sound, it makes sense for them to move past where they started. Grote told the audience that a new album is on the way; hopefully, it provides a clarity to their direction while maintaining what made them great in the first place. Their success in doing so will likely determine whether they reach the top of festival billings or remain a talented, yet unheralded, undercard darling.