Photos by Brett Myers.
Who the fuck goes to Jersey City for live music? I do, I guess. However, a new venue called the White Eagle hall has proved to be a surprisingly fun space for live music. Imagine an art deco church meets a much cleaner Bowery Ballroom. And last Friday, the underrated venue sold out an incredible double-bill that included The Districts and Twin Peaks. No matter how infuriating the PATH trains can be, I couldn’t resist.
Despite being the opener, The Districts tore down the house, perhaps more so than the headliner. Their albums continue to produce the most mosh-worthy explosions of screeching guitars and soulful vocals from singer Rob Grote and they unleashed the full power of their most recent LP, Popular Manipulations, that night. Tracks like opener “Before I Wake” filled with the room with stomping garage bliss as the Philly four-piece abused the shit out of their instruments. Especially Grote, who threw himself around and whipped his greasy, curly locks back and forth. In fact, it was Grote who provided the majority of the visual spectacle, despite his nerdy appearance (a thin mustache paired with a too big button-up stuffed into ill-fitting chinos). However, not even the coolest, chicest indie rock frontman could have bled as much genuine and unrelenting garage rock stamina.
The highlight of the set came in the middle with my personal favorite single “Violet,” which captured everything that makes them something special: A bouncing drum beat that calls for more than dancing, an anthemic hook and chorus destined for crowds to scream back, and a crescendo that slaps the biggest grin across your face. Such gargantuan music deserves a venue many times as big as the New Jersey hall. For now, such a sound clobbers your senses into submission through the intimacy of a smaller indie space, which makes The Districts a can’t-miss any time they’re in town.
Headliners Twin Peaks had their work cut out for them, depending on what you want out of a show. Do you want a huge, bombastic production to gawk at or do you want to be blown away by a band’s show of skill? The Districts fulfilled the former and Twin Peaks the latter. Their youthful, scrappy energy reminded me of a bluesy version of The Strokes. They can perform. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. Singer and guitarist Cadien James swiftly shreds up and down his guitar with the swagger and soul of guitarists much older than him. As well, his laidback but authentic interactions with audience kept everyone engrossed in the show and ready to dance again.
However, that kind of cool-guy swagger can also feel void of energy when the music isn’t enough. A few times through their set, Twin Peaks were rolling through their hits with the audience wrapped around their finger, but there wasn’t much of a show going on. After the spectacle of The Districts, a few songs felt like the band was just performing their recorded tracks really well note for note and that’s it. None of this, though, made for a bad live show. Just a predictable one.
It wasn’t until the encore when the five Chicagoans really showed their chops and directed their angst into both their instruments and the show. Ripping into fan favorite “Strawberry Smoothie,” James’ true showmanship burst from his body as he ran around the stage, interacting with each of his bandmates as well as the audience. What felt like going through the motions before turned into running a race in the best way. They challenged each other to improvise and to do it harder and faster with each passing moment and it made for the kind of final number that keeps the audience cheering well after the band leaves the stage.