3/20/14 – Brighton Music Hall

Who uses a bubble machine only 4 songs into their set!? Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. do.

Jr. Jr. is one of those bands that’s prone to fall just below the radar. They have yet to hit it big with a pop single, they’ve been relatively untapped by soundtrack and TV commercial exposure, and their albums don’t receive accolades from the infamous Pitchforkers. (Their most recent album, The Speed of Things, didn’t even warrant a review.) However, they’ve quietly — or not so quietly as their show demonstrated — been building a loyal fan base hooked by their electro indie pop tunes.

On Thursday night, Jr. Jr. showed a sold-out Boston crowd at the Brighton Music Hall why this Detroit duo-turned-quartet doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein, the founding members of the band and dual vocalists, carried themselves with the confidence of virtuoso performers while simultaneously managing to bring that flair of spontaneous and excited energy that propels new young acts into the hearts of their fans. The banter and interaction with the crowd came very easy for Zott and Epstein, and their appreciation for their fellow bandmates on stage was clear to all. They spent time asking each other what they think of when they think of Boston, and made up funny self-proclaimed “bullshit stories” throughout the set. It makes a huge difference to have a band genuinely wanting to engage the listener with them and their music. In this spirit, both Zott and Epstein took opportunities throughout the show to jump down into the crowd, breaking down that barrier between spectator and performer, and bring all their on-stage energy into a crazy dance party with their fans.

As if their jumping into the crowd wasn’t engaging enough, Jr. Jr.’s stage was armed with two large pairs of “J”s and “R”s filled with lightbulbs, and each member’s setup was also accompanied by a bare bulb synchronized with the stage lighting. At the center was a large balloon ball with an internal projector that flashed different animations and scenes for each song. It was one of the more elaborate setups for a small scale show I’ve seen to date. And on top of all the lighting and visuals, they made great use of their fantastic little bubble machine – together creating a great multi-sensory experience.

While their banter and their stage setup were impressive, both of those things mean nothing if the music isn’t good. Simply put, I was amazed by how so many of their tightly produced songs on the record really came to life in their live show. Each song they brought out of their catalogue revealed the impressive quality of their small amount of material. They interspersed four covers throughout the night, three of which they have recorded studio versions of and have become staples of the Jr. Jr. live show (“I Think It’s Going To Rain Today“, “We Almost Lost Detroit” and “God Only Knows“). They did resurrect their cover of “God Only Knows” from supposed retirement in honor of their drummer Mike Higgins, as his first show with the band was at Brighton Music Hall three years ago. The Beach Boys cover was expertly executed and a perfect shout-out to a clear influence in Jr. Jr.’s music.

Overall the setlist was full of their upbeat power indie pop songs, which invited plenty of head banging, arm flailing and stomping from the sold-out crowd. Though I’ve found their most compelling songs to  be their more expansive and minimal ballads, their entire setlist came alive beautifully without many of them. Giving equal attention to their two albums, Jr. Jr. hit all their notes and kept the energy moving throughout the night. Closing with their wonderful song “Nothing But Our Love,” Jr. Jr. sent the crowd off with truly nothing but their love.

Bubbles & Glowing Balls: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Pros
  • Visuals
  • Banter
  • Song selection
9.2Overall Score

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