Live Music: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., the Independent, San Francisco, 5/17/13

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

photo“Is Rice-A-Roni really the San Francisco treat? It seems more like kale is the San Francisco treat. Or Mission burritos. I’ve been here quite a few times now and I have still not had or even seen any Rice-A-Roni…”

This pensive musing came from Joshua Epstein of the Detroit indie-pop group Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in the middle of their set last night in San Francisco. The vibe of this quote is actually a pretty great summary of the band as a whole, as their repertoire of good-natured and danceable tunes can’t help but bring a smile to your face. It’s very refreshing to see the purely excited and playful mannerisms of Epstein and his fellow bandmate Daniel Zott on stage, and I would highly recommend checking out a future Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. show if you just want to have a solidly carefree good time.

The band recently released an EP titled Patterns, and the night was a good blend of new music as well as old favorites from their 2011 release It’s a Corporate World. Clad in matching patterned beige suits that seemed to have been fashioned from some very dated drapes, Epstein and Zott bounced all over the stage to switch from keyboards to guitars to other drum machines amidst numerous paper lanterns that illuminated their frenzied playing. Zott had bundled his bountiful mane of curly hair into a Spice Girls-esque ponytail at the front of his head. Needless to say, these guys don’t take themselves too seriously and know how to enjoy themselves. Halfway through their set, videos started to be projected onto a big blank sphere on stage, and creative animations were synched to the beat which added another neat visual element to the show.

A staple component to most all Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. songs is that they have beautifully harmonized vocals, and it was definitely a highlight of their live performance to witness this in person. During “Vocal Chords,” Zott and Epstein were joined by another one of the supporting on-stage multi-instrumentalists to craft an amazing three-part harmony. This experience was made even more exciting as bubble machines erupted at the apex of the song, and the entire front section of the audience was flooded with thousands of bubbles. The audience even got a chance to get in on the harmonizing action during “Skeletons,” as the band initiated a sing along that kept building stronger and louder until it broke into a distorted rocking finish that had everyone jumping and throwing their heads around to the beat. Epstein had gotten what he asked for when he told the crowd, “I saw a sign on the door that said this show was sold out. So let’s make this room really fucking loud!”

The band closed out their set with “We Almost Lost Detroit,” a song with a harder rock edge to it, and it got the audience so amped that they cheered for minutes after the band left the stage. Thankfully, they returned for one of the best encores I have seen in awhile, and it really just pushed the show to the next level to be a really great live music experience. All four guys on stage came out in jackets that glowed bright green or blue under black light, and they proceeded to bust out a great performance of their new dance floor sparking single “If You Didn’t See Me,” which had the desired effect of getting everyone moving once again. This transitioned into a crowd favorite cover of Bell Biv Davoe’s “That Girl is Poison,” which really was a great choice, as science has proven that this is the perfect song to perform while wearing neon jackets. They ended the night with “Nothing But Our Love,” a very soulful song that built upon a solid base of audience clapping and stomping. The music was again escalated to its breaking point, and everyone went wild and got to rock out for one final time before the band again left the stage. This was an extremely fun show to be a part of, and I sincerely hope that all members of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. were rewarded for bringing the party to San Francisco with an extra special kale concoction or a super burrito later that night.