11/16/14 – The Sinclair

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is a religion.

As a casual fan of the band, I was not privy to this secret until setting foot in the Sinclair on a frigid Sunday evening. As the crowd filled the floor to prepare for their Sunday night mass, the venue’s PA serenaded them with the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland, an omen of the type of whimsically clever music to come.

Nearby audience members were shocked that I had never seen the indie-pop duo, and proceeded to recount their numerous experiences at previous shows. Many of them considered last spring’s show at Brighton Music Hall to be the greatest concert they had ever attended. With such high praise, roadies silently pouring soap into bubble-blowing machines, and a giant white inflatable orb already mounted at center stage, it became obvious an exciting night lay ahead.

Before my initiation into the church of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. began, the opening act Mini Mansions kidnapped the audience, taking us on a musical runaway train. All three band members served equally as the train conductors leading our wild ride as they performed in a line across the front of the stage. Lead vocals were shared between monochromatically dressed Michael Shuman (Queens of the Stone Age) who stood wailing, both with his voice and on the drums, and keyboardist Tyler Parkford whose atmospheric organs and swirls filled the room. Verses were tossed between the two, often combining in tight falsetto harmonies.

The real star of the band, however, was bassist Zach Dawes, who transformed an instrument typically relegated to the sidelines into the centerpiece of the performance. Using heavy distortion, the bass transformed into the band’s lead guitar, with Dawes frantically soloing through new song “Creeps,” while at other times the driving bass lines and jamming outros demanded the crowd forget that they had come to see any other band that night. They were a tough act to follow, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. later thanked them for giving the band that challenge.

Soon after the Paul Simon faded away from the PA, the duo of Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott assumed their battle stations on each side of the stage at the helm of towering synths and microphones. The duo and their two touring bandmates jumped right into the pounding grooves of “Morning Thought.” Having already been significantly warmed up by Mini Mansions, the audience dove right back into excitedly dancing along as if it was already the encore. This energy never let up for the entire hour-and-a-half set. Even during the band’s mellower hits, such as the new vocoder-heavy electronic ballad “James Dean” and the whistling “Simple Girl,” the dancing in the crowd never wavered. So it was comical when – after an hour of non-stop dancing – Daniel Zott pushed aside his enormous mane of curly brown hair and invited the audience to dance along to their most bouncy, Passion Pit-esque hit “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t on the Dancefloor)”. In this track, Zott and Epstein declare “You’re supposed to surrender to the bass. You’re supposed to blend into this space,” something the audience had done far earlier.

Regarding the band’s bizarre moniker, Epstein once said that “if one can accept a band being named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., then you’ve already opened yourself up to listening to anything that band can come up with. You’ve already decided to leave expectations behind”. Not only has this name given the duo the liberty to create whatever type of music they want, it allows them to engage in all sorts of eccentricity during their performances. The giant white orb that dominated the center of the stage soon became a projection screen taking on absurdly enjoyable images: a dancing crab, soldiers and tanks underwater, and a cartoon boy bobbing his head to the beat. Meanwhile, clouds of bubbles frequently filled the air as Epstein nonchalantly sang into a 1990’s telephone-turned-microphone. The band’s performance and persona was one of goofiness that felt legitimate, without the forced weirdness that bands like MGMT try to cram down our throats.

Although the Detroit-based collaboration is only four years old, the set contained a diverse mix of songs from their entire discography. They performed “When I Open My Eyes,” one of the first songs they wrote together, immediately before an unreleased song that will appear on their next LP, which Epstein has proudly claimed is their best yet. After hearing them play the currently untitled song, it seems like he’s probably right. The band held complete control over their loving congregation both during the fan-favorite, hometown anthem, cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” and the “deep cut” closer of the main set: “A Haunting.”

It must have been just as much of a fun night up on the stage as it was for the bouncing crowd of fans. Epstein recounted how horribly stressful his first visit to Boston was – trapped in the backseat of a car with two angry Jewish parents screaming about how confusing the roads were up here. Apparently their day here was much better this time, although Zott attributed that to the great seafood they had had earlier.

During the encore, Zott jumped into the crowd to sing and dance with his congregation of fans one last time. At their next show, I’ll be with other fans reminiscing about this one, and shaming some first-timer for never having seen Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. before.

Nothing But Our Love (An Evening with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.)
Pros
  • Exuberant Playful Energy
  • Excellent Opening Act
  • Non-stop dancing and grooving
Cons
  • Their last show here for a while
9.6Overall Score

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