“These guys are fucking crazy.” Before even hearing a note, while waiting for their set to begin, I had to agree with the sentiment of the outspoken guy next to me.
Let me explain the scene. It was the Thursday of CMJ at the Webster Hall Studio and I was waiting for Detroit duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott) to take the stage. The two frontmen were both sporting Nascar driver jackets. Zott could definitely be mistaken for Frank from 30 Rock. The trucker hat certainly doesn’t help.
To add to the craziness, one of Epstein’s two microphones was a telephone (you’ll see it below in the KCRW performance video) and on both sides of the stage were wooden boxes with lights in them forming the letters “JR.” You get the picture.
The set was about to begin, but the relatively normal-looking drummer (It was later that I found out he isn’t actually in the band. “Oh, that makes sense.”) had some problems queueing up some loops, so the band decided to proceed with a cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” without him.
What a bold move: opening up your set with a cover of one of the most praised songs in history. It was with that single track that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. proved to me that they had enough vocal ability and creativity to not only cover that classic but that they could create warm, heartfelt, and technically proficient music.
As they moved onto the second track, in which the drummer joined in, loops and all, it became clear that they also had great songwriting abilities. The track, “Simple Girl,” has an astounding early-McCartney style to it and its immaculate background vocals and whistling will have you drawing parallels to The Beatles before the song’s end.
It’s true, the duo wear their ’60s and ’70s influences on their sleeves (they covered Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” later in the set) but their execution, technically proficiency, and fusion of modern minimalist electronic elements and simple pop melodies make Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. a band to have on your radar.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s Horse Power EP is out now on Quite Scientific Records. Their first full length album is expected out in early 2011.