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The Districts | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Well, well, well. If the gosh darn boys aren’t back in town. After what felt like almost whole year, our hometown heroes The Districts returned to a Philadelphia stage for three proper headlining shows at Johnny Brenda’s. And while 2016 wasn’t necessarily a quiet year for them — touring with both Modest Mouse and Dr. Dog is nothing to sneeze at — it definitely felt like a bit of a building year for a band that otherwise seems to have unlimited amounts of energy. It makes sense, with hints of LP3 trickling out at shows, and word coming that the band spent almost a month in LA over the summer, demoing and recording new material. But as summer faded, and the memories of The Districts’ slamming XPNFest set weren’t keeping my heart as warm as they once had, this three-night stand at JB’s came just in the nick of time.

Getting the very first of the three evenings started off was arguably the weirdest opener imaginable, within the sphere of relativity. Albert Bagmanis the weirdcore musical persona of Kory Johnson (of previous Districts touring partners Sun Club), complete with apropos burlap sack on head. The project leans into its own strangeness, hard. At times feeling like the score of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Johnson’s exaggerated and hyper-voxxed vocals lilted through strange time signatures akin to a waltz, or even sea-shanties. Mixing spoken word samples from a tape recorder into the fray, Johnson’s ghastly chorus rose and fell through several songs, surely leaving the audience with more questions than answers.

Kississippi | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Kississippi | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

As a bit more of a known quantity, Kissisippi’s Zoë Allaire Reynolds took the stage next to work some solo magic on the crowd as it grew towards capping out. Breezing her way through an all-too-short set, delicate songs with tender names like “Dogmas” or “Googly Eyes” were brought to life. The intimacy of a solo set impressed many, but some in the crowd kept chatting away. At one point, Reynolds seemed momentarily affected by it, but powered through, delivering an absolutely beautiful set of Kissisippi material, featuring many new songs. A twinkling cover of Cher’s “Believe” was a sweet moment that had the audience participating on board by the end.

Sometimes I wonder if The Districts believe in the concept of “hits.” You’d think that they do, but when practically every song they’ve written and released so far could be considered one, at least as far as their devout fanbase goes, it’s hard to know exactly how they approach the idea. Friday night, they came out swinging — wasting no time by dropping three of their biggest “hits” right off the bat. “4th and Roebling” to “Rocking Chair” into “Long Distance” was a hell of a way to kick off an event. Fans at the absolutely packed Johnny Brenda’s were moving their heads and singing along with the old standards. It really made me realize something about The Districts: They do one thing, and they do it impossibly well — and that’s making rock and roll music.

The Districts | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The Districts | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

There’s a wierd sort of animal magnetism that binds Rob Grote and his microphone together. Staring like a bull about to charge, he’ll prowl and thrash about the stage ripping licks, but always return to the mic once more. The JB’s stage is by far and away the smallest actual stage that I’ve ever seen The Districts demolish, but they navigated the space constraints with ease. Grote is a heavyweight champion, king of the ring — and he knows it. Even when everything seems just too out of control, it’s all another part of the plan. The crew works together like a well-oiled machine, each part completely indespensible. When I ran into lead guitarist Pat Cassidy a couple months ago, he shared that he’s taking lesssons with Brendan Cooney (who influenced much of Dr. Dog’s early sound), and that the band felt more cohesive and sharply attuned to each other. It’s apparent — they’ve never been stronger than right here, right now.

One part of the plan for Friday night was to road-test some of those new songs. Four new numbers — “Violet,” “Night Time Girls,” “Ordinary Day,” and “If Before I Wake” — made appearances scattered throughout the evening, and if I’m not mistaken this marked first appearances for each. With two or three other cuts having been seen at other shows through the year, it’s tough to say exactly what pieces of the puzzle go where in terms of assembling The Districts LP3, or even if all these pieces go together. Still, the new material is very strong, live. It’s not necessarily a large departure from their current sound, but it doesn’t need to be. Once fans have the songs in hearts and minds, the live versions will have infinitely more resonance and command than they already do.

The Districts | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The Districts | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

The energy in the room was high all night, and it’s clear that fans are only ever going to be hungry for more — only three sold-out shows this weekend seemed a modest move, there’s no doubt they could have added one or even two more and still have had more demand. Once the third record is out, I wouldn’t doubt if the hometown stop of the tour in support would land them at the Electric Factory again, or even The Filmore. If we’ve seen anything over the past four years with The Districts, it’s that anything is possible, truly. As the last chords of a particularly raucus “Funeral Beds” rang out and then died in wells of feedback, I packed up and joined the folks shuffling out into the night, heart warmed once more. There’s something special about this band. Philadelphia’s band. Our band.

The Districts Setlist, 11/25/2016:

  1. 4th and Roebling
  2. Rocking Chair
  3. Long Distance
  4. Violet (New Song)
  5. Peaches
  6. Young Blood
  7. Night Time Girls (New Song)
  8. Point (New Song)
  9. Sleepy Song Pt. 2
  10. Chlorine
  11. Ordinary Day (New Song)
  12. Bold

    Encore:

  13. If Before I Wake (New Song)
  14. Funeral Beds
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