Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. June 15, 2011 7th St. Entry, Minneapolis
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott took the stage Wednesday night at the 7th St. Entry, it was hard to know what to expect from the live show. They were dressed in NASCAR driver jackets and stood there a moment, said nothing and were expressionless. But they quickly unzipped the jackets, revealing suits underneath, shook each others hands, and burst into the set with the first single from their new It's A Corporate World, "Morning Thought" -- and with that it raised more questions than answers.[jump]
With a name like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., you'd expect everything to get bogged down in irony, but it was fairly irony-free and by playing it (mostly) straight, it made the hour-long set enjoyable from beginning to end. A bubble machine activated now and again to make the Entry look like a children's playground in a way and large, homemade lightboxes in the shapes of a "J" and an "R" flashed throughout the set, as well. The music, while poppy and fairly polished, had just the right amount of experimentation to make every song interesting and kept the crowd wanting more. "This is a song about the events that led to me getting fired," Epstein informed the crowd before the slow-rolling, laconic "When I Open My Eyes," a song that people could mostly likely indentify with on a couple of different levels (hint: it wasn't exactly about just getting fired from a job).
Overall, the songs often resembled a newly-minted Cadillac with dented doors and and 20" rims--they were all bright and shiny but the edges were frayed, jagged, imperfect. They brought four people onstage from the crowd to dance during "Skeletons," dressing two of them in skeleton masks, the other two in panda bear masks and while it was a little odd and the pandas weren't fully explained (Epstein told a story about drunk people stealing their gear in San Diego but the point never really became clear), they didn't need to be. This was a dance party and parties need no point or explanation they just are what they are. They threw in a stunning, noisy cover of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" from their Horse Power EP at one point and they may have been the moment they won the crowd over for good.
The set wound down quickly and while an encore seemed unnecessary (they were burning white-hot for the last two songs) they brought out Erika Anderson from opening band EMA, her mom and another friend/relative for a great, fairly funny (Anderson was laughing and a bit drunk) cover of Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" and while it still felt a bit unneeded, it was certainly a worthy encore. DEJJ aren't for everyone to be sure, but electro-damaged music such as this has an audience and while many have already found them, there are many who have yet to discover them who are looking for a show in which to dance themselves into a frenzy.
Critic's Bias: I had expected ironic facial hair and too-tight t-shirts, but what I got was a tight, enjoyable set from two guys in suits. Quite the nice surprise. The Crowd: Young and posturing. Overheard In The Crowd: "This next band better be good or I'm leaving you here." (Openers EMA were unimpressive.) Random Notebook Dump: This is a lot less weird than you might expect.