Tuesday night at the Turf Club, the band formerly known as Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr officially made their debut as the more sveltely monikered Jr Jr. A giant, light-up sign reading “JR” made this not only official, but technicolor.
Why the name change? Well, not only are they growing as a band, but they’ve gone from a basement project to a Warner Bros. Records act to a band that doesn’t want to be confused with a race car driver anymore. (Related: Is irony, and thus ironic band names, less cool now? Let's see what Viet Cong have to say.) Read Jr Jr’s full letter for an explanation in their own words.
Despite the name change, Jr Jr are still making the same epically sincere songs that led them out of the basement and into national consciousness. This was their first show on their latest tour, which might just be a new beginning for a band just realizing what potential they have.
I can't think of a better opener for this tour than local band Hippo Campus. Their sound is similar, but not too similar, plus they bring some extra Midwest cred to Jr Jr’s Detroit pride.
If you've never heard Hippo Campus’ music, here are some approximations of what they sound like:
- Paul Simon x a jam band that doesn't suck
- Cold War Kids — the fictional narrative element of their songs
- Dirty Projectors — their Mariah Carey-style high vocals
- Vampire Weekend — Ivy League smarm
Hippo Campus showed up with black Xs on their hands, because the band members are under 21. This makes you feel a little old, but in a "the kids are all right" way. They opened up by joking, "We're not playing for a sea of 15-year-old girls, so this is tight. Enjoy those drinks we can't have. We're not a boy band, all right?"
As a group, they do look like a boxed set in a way, but not quite the way One Direction does. Hippo Campus looks more like a casting room for the role of Brie Larsen's indie-rock little brother.
Jr Jr’s setup was eclectic and bright, with a telephone microphone, a saxophone, and, later on, highlighter-colored, glow-in-the-dark jackets. They opened with “As Time Goes,” the first track off their new, self-titled album. Complete with sax and light-up letters in the background, it made for an epic start to the show.
Josh Epstein, one of the lead singers, addressed the crowd, sharing their enthusiasm for Hippo Campus. “[Us] guys from the Midwest are going to go around this whole country together and fuck shit up."
He later shared that the Twin Cities was one of the first places the band played outside Detroit.
"We've played a lot of weird, shitty bars here that I don't think exist anymore,” he said, sharing that their agent first saw them at the 400 Bar, and that helped kick off their whole career.
Jr Jr played a solid set to a packed bar, the whole brand breaking out dancing when they played “We Almost Lost Detroit,” from their previous album, It’s a Corporate World.
As fans might predict, the band closed things down with an encore of “Nothing But Our Love,” which is arguably still their biggest song.
What’s next for this pair of tuneful, earnest bands? Maybe they’ll record a malt shop jukebox soundtrack together. Maybe they’ll set the tone for roller rink parties around the country. Who knows? Either way, seeing them live is a sweet reprieve from whatever the rest of your day was.
Critic's bias: I am a fan of both bands, although not to the point where I know the lyrics to their songs.
The crowd: A packed house of white people dancing while enjoying craft beer.
Random notebook dump: Jr. Jr. looks like a casting room for Entourage.
Notes on the opener: See above! They merited more than this section.
Overheard in the crowd: Lots of attempts to sincerely whistle.