Skip to content

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. @ Union Transfer.

March 27, 2014

Text and images by Kyle Bagenstose.

There was a moment Monday night, right in the middle of the party that was the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. show at Union Transfer, when things got sentimental. The indie-pop duo from Detroit was just wrapping up “War Zone,” a catchy, hop-along-on-a-sunny-day kind of song, when the lights began to dim and the gigantic white beach ball that had been displaying colorful visuals from a projector across the room slipped into darkness.

Standing in the lone light on stage, frontman Joshua Epstein raised a saxophone from around his neck and poured out a soulful string of notes as the rest of the instruments faded out. An electronic looper built the sound louder and louder as Epstein repeated the progression, and the room fell silent, intently listening in the sudden sereneness.

And that’s when it hit you: This is one hell of a show.

With the exception of a few slower moments, and the occasional stage banter from Epstein and bandmate Daniel Zott, the DEJJ show was a 90-minute dance party.

With the stage framed by four wooden “JR JR” letters, which were lined with incandescent light bulbs that would strategically illuminate to the beat, Epstein and Zott worked through the majority of their two albums: 2011’s It’s A Corporate World and the newly released The Speed of Things.

It was tough to get a lock on who was doing what on stage, as Zott and Epstein switched between synthesizers, guitars, basses, drum kits, saxophones and straight-up stage prowling throughout the show, aided by backing musicians Michael Higgins and Jon Visger. The material from the latest album was what really got the full house (minus closed balconies) going, and rightfully so, as the 2013 release is decidedly more dance and synth happy.

Crowd members were calling for the album’s first single, “If You Didn’t See Me [Then You Weren’t on the Dance Floor]” from the time DEJJ walked on the stage, and the band finally delivered during a three-song encore that had almost every hand in the room reaching skyward. In the middle of the song, Zott hopped into the crowd to dance around with the people in the front rows, after Epstein did same during a cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” earlier in the night, as bubble machines on stage filled the air with their soapy spheres.

It was this showmanship that elevated DEJJ’s performance way above average, a trait noticed by Paste magazine, who named the band one of their top 25 live acts of 2013. The stage banter, mainly coming from Epstein, was entertaining and honest, as he recalled how the last time Jr. Jr. had headlined a show in Philadelphia was when the band played at Kung Fu Necktie.

Traveling with opener Chad Valley (AKA U.K based Hugo Manuel), Epstein delivered the line of the night when he recalled an exchange on the tour bus as it approached the city.

“Hugo was saying how awesome Philly is because it has almost as much history as cities back in Europe,” Epstein said, pausing for effect. “And we were like man… nobody cares.”

Epstein also hinted from the opening that the show would run longer than usual, as it was their second to last stop on tour.

“This is crazy for a Monday,” Epstein remarked, later adding, “I think this is the most fun I’ve had all tour,” to a tidal wave of cheers.

Paying homage to their Detroit roots, Epstein came on stage sporting a Detroit Tigers jacket and the band nearly brought the house down with a raucous version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” to end the pre-encore set. With lights flashing and a mean guitar riff blaring, the duo sang out a powerful rendition of the song, which focuses on the partial meltdown of the Fermi1 nuclear reactor outside Detroit in 1966.

And although a top-notch concert in Philadelphia 48 years later would have been far down the list of things tragically destroyed by a full-scale meltdown, a crowd full of sweaty, smiling, “is it really Monday?” -thinking fans were sure glad it wasn’t as they filed out of Union Transfer and back into the (still) cold night air.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: