Never judge a band by its name.
By calling themselves Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Detroit natives Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein might seem to be going for something tongue-in-cheek as their calling card. Why else would the band (multi-instrumentalists/singers Zott and Epstein with various touring drummers) adopt a famous stock-car racing name and play gigs dressed in NASCAR gear unless they were having a laugh? But the musical duo have assured the race-car driving Junior that they're not making fun of his family, according to ESPN the Magazine, and have actually started writing about sports for ESPN's blog as of late.
They're not kidding around. They have a yen for sports and a weird ear for harmony. In fact, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s twin signature - from the noise they made on Wednesday at Johnny Brenda's - is earnestness and awesomeness.
Their lyrics were ardent, love-struck, and sappy, seemingly small in the face of such magnificent musicality. Rarely has a tiny band, especially an electro-pop one, sounded as large as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. did in Johnny Brenda's space and so serious about imparting that might to an audience. Every swelling arrangement seemed to overpower the room - the minor chord-filled bridge of "Morning Thought" with its soaring "oohs" and "ahhhs," the quickly flittering "Ugly Person on a Movie Screen."
When the bow-tie-and-suit-wearing Zott and Epstein weren't busy switching instruments, the pair crooned grandly in harmony with a handsome swagger to each phrase. Imagine if the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys had been buff and muscular: That was the tone of the slippery "Vocal Chords" and "When I Open My Eyes." The latter tune in particular was an echo-filled, hook-laden treat topped off, literally, with whistles and bells. Heck, they managed to make their cover of the B-Boys' fussy ballad "God Only Knows" sound dreamily brawny.
Philadelphia's the Homophones opened the show. If you could imagine the jangling '60s Searchers hit "Needles and Pins," redone angrily with a deadpan Morrissey at its front, you'd get the gist of the Homophones. And they came equipped with a ukulele-filled holiday tune in "South Philly Christmas." What's not to love?