The District Sound: A summer of soulful pop and jam bands

Summer in D.C. means plenty of concerts, but a dearth of available tickets. For those calling the District home this summer, grab early tickets for these shows.

Fitz and the Tantrums
June 23 | Rams Head Live | $25

I’ll give Fitz and the Tantrums this: Their indie soul-pop sound, rife with bubbly keyboards and synthesized eight-bit riffs, is unique in the modern music strata. Dreamy, trance-like vocal harmonies are punctuated by concise electric guitar lines and high-pitched, gentle flicks of the triangle. There’s a sentimental, quasi-Motown nature to the sound, with blaring vocals bemoaning loneliness and elusive loves. Yet the band’s musical trajectory suggests a newfound, subtle edge; tracks like “Out of My League” offer the bubbly buoyancy of their core sound with a bit more bite.

Score: Unapologetically soulful, Fitz and the Tantrums’ inclusion of big band trumpets and saxophones are a welcome element in the soul-pop landscape.

Bore: The Los Angeles group’s sound borders on kitschy, with staccato keyboard riffs and honeyed vocal duets that ooze cheesy sentimentality.

Belle and Sebastian

July 12 | Merriweather Post Pavilion | $35 to $45

Basic instrumentals don’t detract from the sweetly compelling sound of Belle and Sebastian. The band’s trademark lies in its idiosyncratic lyrical narratives, which ponder upon the poignant – fragile isolation in “The Rollercoaster Ride” – to the more asinine – questioning retired Major League Baseball catcher Mike Piazza’s sexual orientation in “Piazza, New York Catcher.” But this lyrical dichotomy is integral to Belle and Sebastian’s charm, an endearingly quirky quality to their musical disposition. Gently lifted by placid acoustic guitar lines, the vocals beckon you to sing along, a comforting call to revel in your shared eccentricities.

Score: Fans are quick to deem the Scotland crew the modern-day Smiths, a worthy appellation for these singer-songwriters.

Bore: MPP’s expansive outdoor arena setting may not be the most suitable of venues for the group’s soft sound.


July 13 | Merriweather Post Pavilion | $45 to $60

Phish shows are, for better or worse, an experience. As Trey Anastasio’s effervescent, dulcet guitar lines glide over quintessential jam sessions like the Grateful Dead, bizarre sound effects and visually spectacular light shows greet a crowd of hippie youths desperate for a Woodstock revival. It is an improvisational frenzy, a musical pinball ricocheting from funky electric guitar to jazzy piano and raving vocals that belt ludicrous lyrics devised more for mindlessly carefree sing-alongs than profundity. Yet the band’s revered history – they boast guitar geniuses Carlos Santana and Warren Haynes as contemporaries – and legitimate musical chops have sustained their devoted following since their nascent days of bumming around intimate Burlington, Vt. venues.

Score: The band employs creative improvisational methods, once assigning colored beach balls to each band member and playing in time to their respective orbs as they bounced around the audience.

Bore: An admittedly polarizing group, Phish’s zany, nonsensical lyrics and musical A.D.D. is rightfully an immediate turn-off for those looking for some semblance of coherence in a live set.


Toots and the Maytals
May 22 | The Hamilton | $51.50 to $59

WHO ARE THEY: Reggae legends whose songs you didn’t realize Sublime has covered.

JEFF The Brotherhood
May 25 | Rock and Roll Hotel | $15

WHO ARE THEY: Maestros of Ramones-esque brazen, distorted punk.

Cute is What We Aim For
June 9 | 9:30 Club | $15

WHO ARE THEY: Power-pop rockers that never quite measured up to your love for Taking Back Sunday in eighth grade.

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