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Archive for the ‘The Districts’ Category

[DID NOT ATTEND: April 10, 2020] Dr. Dog: The Last Tour / The Districts / Natalie Prass

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I never really got into Dr. Dog but I’ve liked a bunch of their songs over the years.  But I’d always heard they were great live, so I’ve had them on my “gotta see” list.

Back in June, Dr. Dog announced their last tour.

“It is a disturbing thing to read, I’m sure, and trust me, an equally unsettling thing to write, but it’s all good,” they wrote. “It’s important to us that you understand that this is not a break up or anything like that. We don’t know what Dr. Dog will do, we just know it won’t include going on tour, except the tour we’re announcing now, which is going to rule.”

This seemed like the perfect (and only) opportunity to see them.  I tried to get tickets to the TLA show, but it sold out in a minute.  Then I managed to score a ticket to the Fillmore show.  I also found out that The Districts were opening, which was pretty cool. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 27, 2021] The Districts

I was supposed to see The Districts play at Union Transfer on March 12.  COVID-19 had just found its way into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I was being very cautious so I decided to skip the show.  It was a safe decision, but one that I now regret as it would have been a pretty great final show of the year.  Shows pretty much completely stopped after that.

I was then supposed to see the Districts three times in 2021 (a lot of that was coincidence).  The opened for Modest Mouse (I had no idea they were going to), then they announced a show in Asbury Park and then, at the end of the year they were supposed to open for Dr. Dog (they bailed on that show, as did I, even though the show went on).

After seeing them open for Modest Mouse, I wanted to see them headline, because they tend to go a bit more nuts when they are in charge.

I was happy to see them in such a small place, but I hadn’t really thought this show through.  Asbury Park, on Thanksgiving weekend.  Holy crap, the place was full of reunited and drunk college students.  Which made for a more festive atmosphere but also meant that security almost had to pull somebody out and that everyone was singing along (badly) at the top of their lungs.  And of course drunk people were pushing forward throughout the show.

The band seemed to be in a really good mood when they came out and they rocked several classic songs: “4th and Roebling,” “Salt” and ‘If Before I Wake” (the crowd loves singing the “I’m just a narcissist” line)  Then they moved on to You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere for “Hey Jo,” and the moody “My Only Ghost.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 27, 2021] Sham

After The Scouts, Sham came out.  Sham is the project of Shane Justice McCord.  It was him and a bass player (I loved his bass guitar!) for this set.

The bass player started by playing bird calls on a small device while Shane played acoustic guitar.

The set was quiet and acoustic and perhaps a little atonal.  Very experimental (in a video I took, you can barely hear the band from all the chatter, until a guy behind me says, “this band is so weird, this is the best.”

In no way were they the right band for this particular show–a rowdy New jersey crowd looking to rock.  But aside from talking over the set, the crowd was at least respectful.

A few songs in, the bassist moved to drums and a new bassist came out and that added a little (very little) oomph to their set. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: November 27, 2021] The Scouts

I didn’t know if there were any opening bands for The Districts, and it turned out there were two.

The Scouts (a difficult search term, especially when combined with The Districts) are from The District’s home town of Lititz, PA.

They came out as a five piece and won me over immediately with some really solid guitar rock.  Their songs were all pretty long–about five minutes each with lengthy intros and multiple sections.

Lead singer Nathan Yager has long hair and a big beard but has a relatively restrained vocal sound (powerful but not overpowering).  He plays guitar as well and when he and Tom Hartman played together, they really brought in a nice mix of quiet and loud guitar. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 5, 2021] The Districts

I was supposed to see The Districts play at Union Transfer on March 12.  COVID-19 had just found its way into New Jersey and Pennsylvania and I was being very cautious so I decided to skip the show.  It was a safe decision, but one that I now regret as it would have been a pretty great final show of the year.  Shows pretty much completely stopped after that.

I was able to watch The Districts play at (virtual) Philly Music Fest which was fun (but not the real thing).

So I was pretty excited to hear that they were announced as the opening act for Modest Mouse.  They would be the first live band I’d seen and the symmetry made me pleased.

They sounded great, but I was a little bummed that their set was only 6 songs in 30 minutes.  I didn’t keep track of the songs, assuming someone out there would have updated the setlist page, so I only know four of the six songs played.  And the shows around it have slightly different setlists, so I guess I’ll never know.

They opened with “If Before I Wake” and introduced their new drummer (who was really good).  I feel like the crowd was a little subdued for these Philly favorites. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020).

You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere is a pretty radical departure from their last album and a huge leap from their debut.  There are a lot of moody pieces that play with atmospheric sounds rather than outright melody.  Which is not to say that there isn’t a nice catchiness to the album, just that it comes from a different place.

It opens with the haunting, spooky “My Only Ghost” which would seem very out of place on any other release but really sets the tone for the experimentalism on this album.  It’s a quiet piece with vocals sung in falsetto harmony.  It’s an appropriately spooky opening with backwards guitars and atmospheric sounds.  It’s not even obviously The Districts.  Although the next song, “Hey Jo” certainly is.

“Hey jo” mixes acoustic guitars with that uniquely Districts-sounding guitar tone and a storytelling vibe.  The song feels very restrained with a quietly spoken section at the end and a nearly whispered coda tacked on.

It’s with the third song “Cheap Regrets” that The Districts show what they are really taking chances.  They called this track “nihilistic disco,” and that’s pretty apt.  This song is a great mix of disco sounds and a stellar bass line, with an unexpected amount of keyboard (for them).  It also contains a fantastic lead guitar line after the verses.  It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Velour and Velcro” sounds more like old school Districts but updated and with new polish.  The song is catchy and bouncy with some cool guitar sounds.  “Changing” introduces the slower moodier section of the album with gentle acoustic guitar and somewhat warped sounding electric guitar.  There’s a rollicking chorus, but the song retains a moody element that continues into “Descend.”  The song has a pretty acoustic guitar with an almost sing-along melody.  It ends with a trippy series of keyboard washes as the song drifts away.  It segues, appropriately into “Clouds,” another gentle song.

“Dancer” is a similarly moody number with swirly synths. But that fantastic bass line keeps the song grounded and very interesting.

Things rock out again with “Sidecar.”  The old looseness is back with plenty of doo doo, doo doos and screamed vocals from Grote, but the song never feels like its going to get away from them.

“And the Horses All Go Swimming” starts the end of the disc with some swirling sounds.  It builds slightly before moving on to the delicate “4th of July” with the pretty acoustic guitar and super catchy (if somehow off-sounding) whistle.

It’s great to see The Districts exploring new sides to their music, I just hope they never lose that loose, rocking side.

[READ: October 1, 2020] “Reborn to Run”

This is an excerpt from Bonner’s The Book of Atlantis Black.  The intro comment calls this a memoir, so I’ll assume it is.

This excerpt is 7 numbered short sections.

First we see that the narrator’s older sister Nancy decided to run away by hopping a train (when she was 12).  She was gone for several hours but when she returned she only replied “Wouldn’t you like to know?” when the narrator asked if she had done it.

When she was 13, Nancy climbed out her window in the middle of the night and walked the nine miles to school only to arrive on time for first period.

Section four is written in an interesting way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Popular Manipulations (2017).

The Districts third full length sees a change in style and sound for the band. They are clearly still The Districts, but they are far less shambolic.  Their sound is fuller, more complicated and less “sloppy.”  They also keep things reigned in with the longest song here being under five minutes.

The band also plays off of Rob Grote’s higher notes with excellent backing vocals, especially on “If Before I Wake.”  He sings the high notes while the someone else in the band sings a low counterpoint.  The lead guitar brings a catchy melody to the song which is all about the propulsive bassline.

“Violet” is one of the catchiest thing they’ve done.  From the chiming guitar sounds to Grote’s high pitched verses and smooth, catchy chorus, this song is marvelous.  Even the quiet bridge is attention grabbing amid the thumping drums.  But “Ordinary Day” tops “Violet” by having three separate catchy melodies in it.  There’s an immediate melody in the vocal line at the top, a bridge that is instantly gripping and a chorus that plays perfectly off the angst of the bridge.  Fantastic stuff.

“Salt” plays with a few different guitar sounds before hitting the catchy chorus.  Then comes “Why Would I Wanna Be,” a shorter song (under three minutes) with acoustic guitar a and a echoing drum keeping a very fast pace.  Spooky atmospheric sounds–keys? vocals? float through the song giving it a slightly warped feeling.

The catchiness comes back with the bouncy “Point,” a simple melody that resolves into a fun singalong chorus. “Airplane” sounds a bit more like their older style (all the way back to their last album), but updated and a bit more catchy (it’s amazing what a simple guitar riff can do for a song–in the beginning and in the lengthy one at he end). There’s also piano added on this track.

“Fat Kiddo” is the acoustic song–the guitar sounds great, but the song really takes off with the addition of the rumbling bass.   It’s a nice slowdown before the faster “Capable,” with its cool opening guitar sound and riff.

“Rattling of the Heart” is a faster song that works as a nice segue to the finale “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” which is pure Districts–the vocals are unmistakable and the sound of the song is catchy and distinctly them.

It’s great to see a band retain its sensibility while exploring new sounds.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “The Sand Banks, 1861”

This story feel like an excerpt because there seems like there should be a lot more.  I’m not sure if it is or not.

The story is set in remote Roanoke in antebellum South.

An assortment of people stood on the peer looking at the oysters.  Ebo Joe Meekins, the old Negro, “was either fifty or a thousand.”

There were six pre-teen boys, five colored and one white.  The narrator’s name is Dick.  He is one of the colored boys and is, in factor Master’s John B’s son.  But not really his son.

Among isolated people, increasing your slave stock was as difficult as finding new blood for brides.  Mulattoes were the result, open secrets.

The boys were friendly, if not friends, including Patrick, the white one.  Patrick was Mass. John B’s nephew and he was willing to take chances.  Instead of seeding the oysters in the oyster bed, he ate them.  As John B. walked away Patrick mocked him, but Dick would never dare. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-A Flourish and a Spoil (2015).

A Flourish and a Spoil feels like an extension of The Districts‘ EP. And that’s no bad thing.

It’s got more of the same vibrato guitars and thumping bass all wrapping around Rob Grote’s angsty voice.  The big difference from the EP is that most of the songs are shorter (around four minutes with the exception of the end of the album).

A propulsive bass opens up the super catchy “4th and Roebling.”  The song starts somewhat quietly but turns into a raucous brawl by the end with crashing cymbals, smacking drums, and the whole band singing along.

“Peaches” has a fuller sound as the whole band plays the main parts until the catchy chorus where the guitar gets to play the lead melody along with the vocals.  “Chlorine” starts loud and then slows down for the verses.  Followed by the catchy chorus which is bigger and louder.  “Hounds” is built out of a simple riff that is played with a little delay so that it lurches interestingly until the shambolic ending of “hounds in my head, hounds in my head.”

“Sing the Song” is a slower song with a loud but spare chorus.  It’s got a rousing ending and then a lovely delicate denouement.

“Suburban Smell” is under three minutes. It’s a pretty acoustic song with some lovely guitar melodies and Grote’s more delicate vocals (and yes, there’s a questionable lyric in there). The song ends with a mic shutting off, like a real bedroom recording. It’s followed by a full on echoing drum intro of “Bold.”  The song is full of noises and sounds like a song in search of something.  It finds it with the soaring catchy ending section, fast chords, highs notes and a powerful repetition.

“Heavy Begs” is the last short song on the record.  It features the one thing that has been missing: some “oohs” (although only once).  It’s also got a new sound introduced in the guitar solo–a buzzing that works nicely with their overall sound.

“Young Blood” stretches out to almost nine minutes.  After a siren-like introduction, the song settles into a relaxed lope with catchy vocal melody.  The first four minutes jump back and forth between verses an chaotic crashing chorus.  Then comes a pause followed by a quiet bass line while the other instruments slowly add sounds and melodies (and what sounds like a party in the background).  This instrumental section builds on itself for two minutes until the coda.  The quiet “it’s a long way down from the top to the bottom” which repeats until the drums start pounding  before the final guitar solo takes the song out with a riff that sounds like it came from Built to Spill.

That feels like an album ender to me, but they put in one more song, the nearly 6 minute “6AM.”  This song also sounds like a bedroom recording–it sounds raw and rough–and it never sounds too long.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “Rainbows”

I liked the way this story seemed to be settling into a time frame and then leaped away from it to move on to something else.

The story is told in first person, by an Irish woman named Clodagh.  She came to America when she was twenty-three.  She’d never heard of mentors or office hours or anything like that in an educational system.  She was getting a Master’s Degree in Applied Analytics. 

She decided to audit a class in anthropology just to take her mind off the degree.  The teacher, Paola Visintin, became something of an unexpected mentor to her.  Paola was twenty years older, but cool in a way that younger teachers weren’t.  The bonded in coffee shops and talked about many of Clodagh’s problems.  Paola’s answers were short, direct and sometimes beside the point.

The passage of time is delivered in a fun way:

My kitten grew into a cat, turned into an old lady, died. The obstetrician lifted a red-blue creature from behind a blue paper curtain–and, flash, the creature, Aoife, turned eighteen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-The Districts (2014).

The Districts are a band from around Philly.  They are very popular there.  I saw them live with a crowd that knew every word to every song (I didn’t know them that well and felt a little out of place).

The band was in high school in Lititz, PA when they formed.  They independently released a couple of EPs and an album, Telephone in 2012 (while they were sophomores).

This EP was their first for a label (Fat Possum) and has three newly recorded songs from Telephone as well as two new songs.

“Rocking Chair” opens the EP.  There’s some Americana-ish guitar melodies and the some loping, rocking chords.  There’s also a couple of “whoos” and a full on “oooh” singalong part near the end. Rob Grote’s voice is old-in-a-young-body, with some nice gruffness.

“Lyla” is a slower, moodier piece with some really pretty guitar fills at the end of each verse.  There’s some loose, rambling dah dah dah’s near the end of the song that are very fitting to the feel of the record.

“Funeral Beds” starts out with quiet guitar and a harmonica!  There’s some slide guitar-sounding parts, giving it a desert feel.  The drums start as simply a thumping bass drum. At three and a half minutes, the drums amp up to include some martial snare beats.  And then the song takes off, rocking on to it’s five and a half minute conclusion.

“Long Distance” is my favorite track on the record.  It’s got a great melody, some clear guitars and jaunty rocking chord changes.  It’s got a big raucous sing along chorus.  After almost five minutes the song drops away for a simple thumping bass line and the whole band singing the chorus.

“Stay Open” ends the EP with a bit more raucousness–alternately slow and rocking controlled sloppiness.

It’s a great introduction.  They would follow this with a terrific full length the next year.

[READ: September 19, 2020] A Beginner’s Guide to Free Fall

This book came across my desk and it sounded really interesting.  I’d never heard of the author–this is his second novel–but there was something about the title and the cover that grabbed me.

And boy did I really enjoy this book.

The book starts four months from now, with the narrator trapped under a car that has crashed into the sea.  It’s an inauspicious beginning, but proves to be the logical conclusion for a man whose life went from amazing to horrific in one day.

Davis Winger is the man trapped.  He has a lovely wife and daughter.  He has a very cool job (he designs roller coasters) and he is well liked by everyone.  Even by his sister, Molly, with whom he has a great relationship.  Molly proves to be an excellent co-protagonist.  Indeed, her story proves to be more interesting than his. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-Live at Philly Music Fest @Ardmore Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, September 25, 2020).

I saw Japanese Breakfast back in 2018 at Union Transfer.  It was a really fun show.  Since Michelle Zauner is from Philly she really made the show personal. 

During the introduction to her set for Philly Music Fest, the announcer said that he’d been trying to get Japanese Breakfast to play this festival since it began.  So one good thing about the pandemic was that the band was still in Philly and not world touring.

We got to watch the band come out from back stage, take up their instruments and start “Diving Woman.”  This song has a wonderful, memorable bass line and a jamming guitar solo from her lead guitarist.

For this show she had the addition of Molly on violin.  Molly added so much to the upbeat and poppy “In Heaven.”

Michelle put down the guitar for “The Woman That Loves You,” a shorter song that was followed by the funkier “Road Head.”  This song is really catchy and has a very interesting slide sound from the bass.

It was funny to see her not playing the guitar because usually when she just had the microphone, she would interact with the crowd some.  But she only had the video monitor to look at.  Nevertheless, after the song she said “it feels great to feel like you have a purpose again.”

They played a new song–the first time the band played it together–called  “Kokomo Indiana” which is from the perspective of a love-lorn 17 year-old boy whose girlfriend moved to Australia for a summer exchange program.  It was a slower song with a slide guitar melody.

Michelle returned to the guitar for “Boyish” the catchy song from her old band Little Big League, with the chorus

I can’t get you off my mind
I can’t get you off in general
so here we are we’re just two losers
I want you and you want something more beautiful

Up next was “The Body is a Blade” with some slinky guitar lines.  After the song, someone triggered a sample of a crowd cheering, which was fun to hear and made Michele laugh.

Michelle put the guitar down again for “Essentially,” with a dynamite bass line that runs through the song.

Then she sat at the keyboard for the next song.  A new one called “Tactic.”  This is the first time she’s sat at the keyboard, “I feel very professional.” Her guitarist also played keys for this slow song.

She commented that it was lovely to see The Districts play–they are rehearsal space buddies and she felt it was surreal hearing them practice for the same show that her band was.

Then it as time for an old classic, the bouncy “Heft,” with a really nifty guitar line after the chorus.

During the quarantine, Michelle made a quarantine music project with Ryan from Crying.  The band is called BUMPER, and they released an EP called Pop Songs 2020.  She did a countrified version of the song “Ballad O” which was a look at both perspectives from Kenny Roger’s “Don’t Take Your Love To Town.”  Peter plays the slide guitar and the drummer sings the male parts.

She announced that her bass player Devon was going to get married (cue the fake cheers from the sampler) and so she was going to play a sing about marriage, “Til Death.”  This is the first song I’d heard from Japanese Breakfast many years ago and it always sounds great live.  The opening verse feels even more poignant today:

all our celebrities keep dying
while the cruel men continue to win

Then came a surprise cover: Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.”  Musically it sounded spot on and I enjoyed her vocal take on it–not unusual or weird, just very differed with her voice instead of Roland Orzabal’s.  Then for the “da da da da” part at the end, three of The Districts came out (with masks on) to sing into one of the microphones.  It was a wonderful moment of live spontaneity (or not, but still) that is what makes live shows so much fun.

They followed that with a ripping version of “Everybody Wants to Love You.”  The drummer sang the backing vocals on this part to good effect.

Michelle took a moment before the last song to use her platform and say that of course “Black Lives Matter.  Not just saying it, it means marching and fighting.  Please vote.  We must work to defund the police and invest in our communities.”

That’s another thing I’d missed about live shows–bonding over good causes.

They ended with a “goofy” cover of a “Taste of Ink” by The Used.   I don’t know the song or the band, but it was a jangly bouncing song and the most rocking song of the night.

And then it was over.   While it was nice not having to drive an hour to get home, I still would have preferred to be there (although maybe not right now).

Diving Woman [§]
In Heaven [¶]
The Woman That Loves You [¶]
Road Head [§]
Kokomo, Indiana [new]
Boyish [Little Big League song]
The Body is a Blade [§]
Essentially [newish]
Tactic [new]
Heft [¶]
Ballad 0 [BUMPER song]
Til Death [§]
Head Over Heels [Tears for Fears cover]
Everybody Wants to Love You [¶]
Taste of Ink [The Used cover]

[§] Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017)
[¶] Psychopomp (2016)

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Sultana’s Dream”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

I first learned about Muslim Bengalese feminist and writer Begum Rokeya through a massive landmark anthology: Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction published in 2016. …  The story was first published in The Indian Ladies Journal in 1905…. She simply switches the roles of men and women in her Muslim society.  This may seem like a simple trick, but … writers of science fiction have long known that sometimes a switch on perspective is all it takes to illuminate truths that are otherwise obscure.

This story is pretty simple and straightforward.  A woman, Sultana, falls asleep.  She dreams (or is it real?) that a woman named Sister Sara has come to walk her through the streets of Darjeeling. (more…)

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