WASHINGTON, April 18, 2014 – Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr is the kind of cumbersome band name that’s difficult to take seriously. The name in and of itself is kind of silly, starting with the double juniors in the title. But then, to top it off, the band borrows the name of a sports figure not only well known in his own sport but in the sports world in general.
So, with a name that seems to lack seriousness, this is initially an easy band to dismiss if you don’t know them. That is, until they just happen to sell out their recent show at the 9:30 Club, something that’s fairly hard to ignore.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is for all intents and purposes a duo that morphs into a four piece when it comes to performing live. Formed in Detroit by Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein as something of a basement lark, the two musicians bounced around their local scene and in the process, turned into something more substantial.
The duo eventually added Mike Higgins on drums as well as keyboardist Jon Visger, creating the current combination. The direction of the band, though, is dictated by musical leanings of Zott and Epstein, and this was the driving force behind their show at the 9:30 Club.
It would be so easy for these guys to play up the tongue-and-cheek humor that lurks within their band’s name, but then surprise and do something entirely different. That’s not say this band is overly serious – they really aren’t – but despite what their name might suggest, these performers don’t regard themselves or their performance as a joke at all. Everything about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. feels meticulously crafted for their stage performance.
Nominally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. can be described as an electro-pop band. But they really don’t sound like one when performing live. Normally, within the electro-pop genre, there’s an intentional, machine like touch to every sound that’s produced.
This approach isn’t a bad thing. It’s neutral, really, and some bands pull it off while some bands don’t. But electro-pop plays up how technology is advancing musicianship in new and different ways. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. seemed to take it both ways, though, during their set at the 9:30 Club.
Nothing about the band suggests that they’re behind the curve when it comes to electro-pop musicianship, yet there’s more of an organic feel to the band’s sound than you can find in a lot of their contemporaries. The band creates a warmer, moodier atmosphere for the audience especially when they incorporate songs from their latest album, “The Speed of Things.” It’s here where their set begins its upswing.
As a result, there’s a certain inherent depth when Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. perform together. A lot of this comes from the all-encompassing sound that’s able to keep its immediacy without feeling overly urgent, something that would conflict greatly with the overall mellow atmosphere Zott and Epstein crafted with these songs.
Their set here didn’t have any serious edginess to it. Instead, everything was rounded and subtle. The performers are able to keep the pace lighthearted but immediately danceable, which actually seems to be the general point of the band.
The band’s melodies drift effortlessly into one another, creating a hypnotic hum that seems almost impossible not to dance to. Though it doesn’t seem to be part of their root experience, you can also get a feel of Motown as these native Detroiters progress through their set, moving from one enjoyable tune to the next.
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. isn’t inherently a “serious” band, their sound is still confident and assured. It’s not surprising that the audience here was completely engrossed in their set from the start, forcing everyone at the 9:30 Club to take them seriously just the same.