Read up on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. on Metrojolt if you haven’t already!
New York City is a big city with a huge selection of venues which afford visitors and residents the opportunity to catch everything from a stadium show to a 10-person bar gig. So going out to a concert requires some serious deliberation, and possible feelings of guilt if the performance is a bust. Like with the Cro Mags concert that same night at Webster Hall, which ended in a stabbing of two band members.
But there’s another scenario– ours this past Friday– which says something about the rewards of carefully choosing one show out of the pile and it being downright awesome. As part of New York’s underground rock focused “CBGB Festival,” The Highline Ballroom– a venue situated on the non-descript W 16th St. right around the corner from the famous Chelsea Market– hosted a three-band bill including: Lissy Trullie, FAWN, and headliners Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. We, the Metrojolt New York “crew,” were initially skeptical because of the small turnout and rocky opening sets, but by the end of the night we were ecstatic to be some of the few to experience this special evening unfold.
We entered to find Lissy Trullie, the NYC via Washington DC singer-songwriter on stage. We approached, and as we did her figure– tall, skinny, and almost angular– became more pronounced. Her aesthetic– black blazer and hat– gave further hints to her art-school and modeling background. The stripped-down set– with Trullie on an acoustic guitar rigged as an electric one and another young woman on guitar– left much to be desired. Trullie boasted a range of sound spanning lofty pop melodies to punk. The two contrasting styles didn’t sit well together, however. Ultimately it was a hollow set, missing much of the sounds on her new release Lissy Trullie.
Next up was four-piece Detroit band FAWN. This indie-pop/rock outfit released their first album– Coastlines– on Ann Arbor record label Quite Scientific last month. Their recorded material is strong enough– especially the Beach House-y “No Wave” and “Hurricane Fire”– but their live set didn’t do much for us and the loosely formed audience. Perhaps it was because our temporal lobes were there for the eccentric electro-infused Jr. Jr., but this set sounded too conventional. It didn’t help that the harmonies of Alicia Gbur and Christian Doble were strained and often off-key. Perhaps the most interesting sound was coming from guitarist Mike Spence, who was viciously pulling and pushing on his whammy bar to distort, elogate, and psychedilify (probably not a word) his riffs.
After a recess, the headliners of the evening emerged. Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr were the most welcoming of hosts: good humored, light hearted, and happy. When you see the indie-pop duo together onstage, it’s hard not to notice how odd a couple they are. While Zott is clad in flowing linen pants with a hippie-ish side ponytail, his partner in crime Joshua Epstein is wearing the standard indie skinny jeans, converse with heavily gelled hair. We got to wondering how the two met, and our imaginations got the best of us. Perhaps the most unexpected surprise was these two can produce the impressively diverse harmonies that run through every song: the vocals were true to the record, if not better.
They ran through a 60+ minute set packed with old tunes and some new ones. They switched off playing synth, guitar, and bass. They both donned telecasters, making for a bright, pleasing guitar tone. Only a drummer assisted them on stage; His dance grooves and heavy animated movement propelled the band through their upbeat set.
Of the many highlights of the show, two were covers. One a slightly tweaked version of “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ classic, the other a cover of socially conscious soul singer Gil Scott Heron ‘s song “We Almost Lost Detroit.” Nobody’s got the voice of Scott Heron, or the depth of The Beach Boys, but what Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein may lack in vocal dexterity, they more than make up for in personality and creativity.
Songs like “Simple Girl,” and “It’s a Corporate World” showed off the band’s ability to compose well written, tightly performed pop songs. On the latter Epstein’s voice is reminiscent of Avey Tare of Animal Collective. He’s erratic, but still charmingly understated. He also did mostly all the group’s talking for the night “This is one of the earlier shows we’ve played. Did you guys all have enough time to get drunk?” he asked the crowd (for a few, the answer was a resounding yes).
The band also peppered their set with a few new songs (“Dark Water” and “If You Didn’t See Me”), which feature more Andrew Bird-esque harmonies – including whistles – and the clacking of the metal surrounding the snare as a kind of beat. Although the record isn’t coming out until next year, it gives you a reason to stay in their loop. Keep an ear out for what they release next.Written by: Forrest, Daniel, DJ