May 27th, 2011
Loopster Live: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. w/ Generationals and Young Girls at Fitzgerald’s
With four concerts in six days (White Lies review coming soon) lined up, you might think that some wear and tear would set in. No, I don’t play in a band, but even us fans can overbook and eventually need a day to rest the eardrums. For some reason, I couldn’t turn away from an opportunity to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. headline a show featuring The Generationals and Young Girls at Fitzgerald’s. Even though I had heard barely a lick of music out of any of the three bands, something told me it would be special. (This is the beginning and end of anything “objective” about this “article.” Some serious fanboy drooling is about to go down.)
The bartender already knew what I would ask for when I slid into the empty venue 45 minutes after the doors opened. He knows my face, my name, my drink. I say that with a bit of honor and a bit of shame. Groups of people here and there stood clustered around conversations until the Young Girls struck their first note. Loud and on top of the front of the stage, they were cramped by the equipment already set up for the next band. That didn’t hinder the energy.
Young Girls made due with what was given them. They blasted their way through a short set of pop punk tunes with a bit of surf rock smashed in. With about a six-foot narrow area in which to practice their craft, they jammed in as much garage sound as they could. The lo-fi, recorded-in-a-tin-can style is experiencing a revitalization, and Young Girls are doing it as well as any Houston band I’ve heard.
I retired outside for a short break to catch up with some friends that had decided to tag along for the show. Generally, there is a bit of fear involved when you send out invitations to an event, especially a concert, you know nothing about. There’s too much pressure to produce a fun time with no control over the final product. I guess it’s the pressure that comes with being a social butterfly. The Generationals were halfway through their first song when my friend looked up at me and said, “these guys are good, I’m going in.” I was officially off the hook.
By the end of that first song, the other three people with me people had been converted to fandom. By the end of the third, one friend was screaming over the music to me, “where are they from?! I want to be their GROUPIE!!” Out of New Orleans, the band has built a well-crafted machine of pop music. Simple, sugary sunshine poured out of the speakers as the gathered crowd found itself twist-n-shouting. My friend’s conversation from “never-heard-of-em” to full on “insta-biggest-fan-ever” will hence forth be known in my writing as “going Generationals on them.” It’s the least I can do, especially after I found myself purchasing Con Law and Astor-Caster their 2009 and 2011 full-length albums from the simple merch table. With them being so close to home and my own fanboy fascination setting in, I’m hoping that they stop through Houston for gigs so that I won’t have to take monthly pilgrimages to the Big Easy for a taste of Generationals’ candy-coated music.
Because of all the romanticizing about the second set, I wasn’t prepared for what would happen next. Hailing from Detroit, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. took the stage after a stage breakdown and set-up. As my friend had bugged out for Generationals (excuse me) “gone Generationals on” the previous band, I began to wish that God had made me a woman as Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott began to bounce their way through the headline set. A stripped down version of something along the lines of what made Broken Bells so popular last year (remember, I said I was terrible at comparing bands) was playing within arms reach on the downstairs stage of Fitzgerald’s.
Their meteoric rise has been interesting thus far. With only an EP to their credit (their debut full-length, It’s a Corporate World doesn’t come out until June 7th), Dale Jr. Jr. has already began generating some envious buzz and even gotten themselves a prime slot during Austin City Limits’ tenth anniversary festival. Speaking of Austin, the only gaffe during the show came when Epstein thanked Austin for having them. The tandem played it off surprisingly well, throughout the show shouting “Hello, San Antonio!” and other Texas cities. Neither the crowd nor band took the slight seriously.
Having not taken the time to scoop up the Horse Power EP from last July before the show, when the cover of Beach Boys tune “God Only Knows” started, it came as a surprise and there was no turning back. I was in the zone: The world of they-can-do-no-wrong adoration set in. With every hook, I fell in further. With every wash of electronic synth that cascaded over the airwaves, I felt a little lighter in my loafers.
For being a “new band” Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. showed a level of polish unlike most grizzled veterans I’ve seen recently. Crowd interaction was abundant. From inviting up the “skeleton choir” from the crowd (an online competition before the show that I was not aware of) to Epstein diving into the crowd to be mauled by the fans. He crawled back on stage and, while laying down on his back, finished up the song as Zott stood over him, jamming on his guitar. The whole scene required the attention of your eyes for every moment, lest you miss something miraculous.
And of course, there was a tom right in front of Epstein to put the finishing touches on the single “Nothing But Our Love” which Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. closed their set with. While the recorded versions of their songs are slow, everything played live has that special jolt of energy and upped-pace. Honestly, there was nothing about the show to question except for what Zott and Epstein had picked for their encore having exhausted their only hit thus far. That’s when they slid back onto stage and swished their way through Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” Quirky. Poppy. Perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more.
After the show, I caught up with Daniel Zott (who I have to say is a knock of Judah Friedlander’s block) and talked to him a little bit about their quick rise in popularity and the surprise booking for ACL without an LP to their name. He gave all the credit to the team behind the band for their success, but how did it all come together? “Josh (Epstein) and I were in a bunch of other bands in Detroit and started this band just for fun and it took off,” he said. That’s how it always should be, isn’t it?