Spoiler alert: If you're at all up to date on any recent NASCAR happenings, there will be a totally corny comparison later in this review. For now, however, I will focus my energies on what took place last night at the Rhythm Room, compliments of Detroit indie rock duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. The duo is comprised of Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, both of whom shared vocal duties throughout the night -- a night filled with lightbulb-lined "J" and "R" letters, three-piece suits and plastic skeleton masks. It was, suffice to say, one of the better shows I've seen this year.
Taking to the stage with their latest single "Morning Thought," Dale Jr. slowly removed their NASCAR jackets to reveal three-piece suits, at least for Epstein and Zott -- their touring drummer was simply decked out in a shirt and tie. That dapper decision to rock suits is most likely influenced by the band's debut album, It's A Corporate World, due in stores 6/7. The suits offered a professional demeanor to the show, one that Epstein and Zott showed throughout their tight-yet-rambunctious set.
There were the aforementioned lighted letters, American flags, Citgo caps and bubbles -- yet it all took a backseat to Dale Jr.'s music. The band has an EP, Horse Power, and an as-of-yet unreleased album, It's A Corporate World, to their name, yet they managed to flesh out a solid show. Highlights included the band's version of the Beach Boys' classic "God Only Knows," played with a rather heavy, rock-tinged edge, as well as Joshua Epstein adding lyrics from Whitney Houston's 1987 hit "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" to the band's own "If It Wasn't You." He explained that he "loves Whitney Houston" and had "heard that song on the radio today."
Corny comparison alert: much unlike their namesake this past Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. did not run out of gas at any point last night -- especially on their last lap. The band powered through a two-song encore, featuring the band's signature song, "Nothing But Our Love." As enjoyable as that particular song is, it was outdone by the band's version of the Steve Winwood classic "Higher Love," complete with saxophone solo by Joshua Epstein. It was the unexpected pleasure of hearing their cover of "Higher Love" that made last night such a special experience for all those who witnessed it. Add a solid live show to a hotly-anticipated debut album, and it's only up for Dale Jr. in the forthcoming weeks.
Setlist: Morning Thought Simple Girl If It Wasn't You When I Open My Eyes God Only Knows It's A Corporate World Skeletons An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen We Almost Lost Detroit
The "Love" Encore:
Higher Love Nothing But Our Love
Last Night: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at the Rhythm Room.
Personal Bias: I told former New Times writer Sarah Ventre to check out Dale Jr. at this past October's CMJ Music Marathon because I was pretty jealous she even had the chance to see them play. I also wrote a piece about the band last week only because I was that excited to see them play last night.
The Crowd: A rather tall crowd of youngsters and hipsters alike, with the leftover bubble wrap on the ground from opener Treasure Mammal.
Overheard: "Shakeweights! Unicorns! Bye! Get off the stage!" All directed towards two young ladies who felt it necessary to jump up on stage during Dale Jr.'s set. The shakeweight and unicorn remarks were in relation to opener Treasure Mammal. If you ever, ever have the chance to see Treasure Mammal play, do yourself a favor and just watch them.
Random Notebook Dump: "Bubbles a nice touch," in reference to the bubble machine the band turned on during "Simple Girl." And "Check-ognize 2011, you guys," my new favorite phrase, compliments of Treasure Mammal.
One More Thing: "We Almost Lost Detroit" sounded fucking fantastic live. That's just an amazing song made all the more better by hearing Dale Jr. absolutely killing it live.