“I bet those blink,” my lady-friend and I muttered to one another, pointing at the giant JR JR letters that provided the backdrop to an otherwise barren stage. This was just the second in a string of underestimations about the Detroit-hailing, genre-defying (Dale Earnhardt) JR JR. My first misconception came long before I arrived at the Teragram Ballroom that night.
About a month before the show I learned that Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott, the talented team that comprises Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, were trimming the bearded racecar driver from their name in favor of the shorter, simpler moniker, JR JR. Initially, I was worried that the name change signified a shift from their Indie roots to a more mainstream, marketable bubblegum pop. I don’t know why I was so worried about a name change. Maybe it was because I, like many others, was drawn first to the name before being moved by the music.
I set out to do some research on the name change… and when I say research I mean a light, leisurely Google browse. I found that the band penned a letter in regards to the name change and posted it on their official website. In the note, they talk about why they chose the name in the first place:
“Band names are a weird thing to begin with, but we figured if we named our band Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr there would be no expectations for what we were meant to sound like. Something that bizarre would just have to be listened to and judged without preconception.”
This is exactly what drew me to JR JR. How could I not check out a band named after this guy… But it turns out that their plan worked a little too well. Their music gained well-deserved recognition and as their audience expanded, so too did the confusion revolving around their name:
“We’ve had people drive long distances to shows only to be disappointed when they realize it’s a neurotic Jew and a wild-haired gentile from Detroit they’ve paid to see. A number of times now we’ve received hope-filled inquiries from people who have dying relatives that only want to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. (the driver) before they pass. Those sorts of interactions feel a little voyeuristic and eerie, and even attempting to simply clarify the situation means you’ve added a moment of embarrassment to someone’s day when they’re already going through a lot.”
Touché, JR JR… one way to shut up a guy who questions your name-changing intentions is to hit him with the most logical, sensitive explanation imaginable. Another way is to put out a catchy, endearing album that manages to build upon past projects… and that’s just what they did with the newly self-titled album, JR JR.
In a lot of ways, the new album is tied to time. Sure, this might seem obvious considering the first track is called “As Time Goes,” but the entire project deals with time spent, time wasted, and time wanted. Songs like “Gone” deal with the past and creeping nostalgia. In “Philip the Engineer” JR JR use a dystopian story arch in order to convey the idea that “time makes grown ups out of kids.” And then there’s the personal favorite, “James Dean,” which manages to capture catchiness while conceding that “I’m not dumb, but I’ve wasted time.”
In fact, every single track on this album (and their albums of old) somehow manages to remain incredibly catchy while dealing with meaningful things like the idea of time. It’s weird to find yourself swaying and singing along to a song about divorce (“A Haunting”), but it’s also refreshing. JR JR take heavy thoughts and emotions and balance those feelings with catchy choruses in order to capture specific moments in time. Everything they’ve done feels like an honest pursuit of artistic and emotional expression. I think that’s one of the reasons why JR JR has not only found success, but also been able to create catchy, enduring songs. It’s their honesty…
Which brings me back to the Teragram Ballroom on October 10th. Fair warning: I’ve loved JR JR since I first heard them a couple years back, but I really didn’t know what to expect from their live show outside of some inevitably amazing whistling. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
First off, I’d be a buffoon (I knew I’d be able to sneak the word ‘buffoon’ into something someday) not to mention Hippo Campus, who opened for JR JR. Their set was strong and they looked like they were having more fun than everyone. What do you do when you want an encore from the opener? Well, you write about the concert and hope that said opener sees said article and agrees to get drunk with you someday.
As the Teragram Ballroom pulsed with Hippo Campus’ energy, I noticed how much it reminded me of 40 Watt Club in Athens. Before the Athenian nostalgia set in too hard those JR JR letter lights started doing far more than “blinking,” as Josh, Daniel, and the band took to the stage, opening with “As Time Goes.” I was blown away by both the sound quality and the light show. I mean I really can’t express how much I underestimated those damn letter lights.
JR JR weaved their way through new material as well as old. They had the whole room dancing during songs and laughing in between. At some point after their cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” but before they highlighted the different Detroits (Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, and them), I realized that JR JR is able to do what they do not solely because they’re talented, but because they’re honest and passionate. It’s who they are, and it shows on stage as well as on their albums.
Not to get too “Hallmark-y” here, but it’s pretty rare to find a band that creates catchy songs that actually say something of worth. Don’t get me wrong, bubblegum pop has its place, but I’ll forever prefer the sweet, soulful sounds of JR JR. After a brief exit from the stage, JR JR answered the crowd’s calls for an encore. They returned wearing these incredible jackets. As they ended the night with “Nothing But Our Love,” it was clear that that’s exactly what they had from the tightly packed audience at the Teragram Ballroom.
Hailing from 'The Good Life City' of Albany, Georgia, Colby Pines is the middle child of five boys. While his family is primarily comprised of men, the Pines family did have a female dog once... unfortunately she died... God bless his poor mother. When Mr. Pines was in third grade the doctors discovered that he had an extra bone in his knee. The bone did not possess any magical powers or help Colby run faster/jump higher, so the doctors surgically removed the bone and refused to let Colby keep it as a souvenir. Colby recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in having cool friends and wearing great sweaters. Colby studied abroad at Oxford University's Trinity College where he was able to visit three of the four coasts, but was not able to bring back a baby with a British accent. Colby enjoys going to the movies, scotch, traveling, playing folk music with his band, BirdHead, eating good and bad food, writing, dabbling, playing Fantasy Football with his Pigskinz and Sundee Beerz League, reading a great book, and all sorts of music. While Colby has a bit of a bipolar taste in music, some of his favorite bands include: Band of Horses, Death Cab for Cutie, 2pac, Washed Out, Johnny Cash, Childish Gambino, Local Natives, The Beatles, Danny Brown, and Beach House. Colby is currently single and quite possibly ready to mingle. Colby has broken five bones, saved two children from drowning, been to Canada twice, and almost fallen into The Grand Canyon once. While he tends to miss things like Breaking Bad, eighth grade, Hey Arnold!, and Surge soda, Colby's excited for the future where he hopes to continue writing and doing the things that he loves.