Last night was nothing short of amazing. I can say that easily because I went into the evening with pretty high expectations and what I got in return was far more than I could have imagined. I'd been looking forward to seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. since the day they announced Denver would be the first stop on their fall tour, so I knew no matter what I was going to be at the Hi-Dive. But for the longest time, the Hi-Dive website did not list any openers for show. I kept checking daily to see if that would change but it wasn't until about a week ago that another name popped up on the bill, and until about three days before the show that a second band was added to the gig. It was cool to see two new-to-me Denver bands opening up for one of my favorite bands, but since the announcements were made so late I didn't have as much chance as I usually do to get a feel for them before the show. Still, I thought I knew what to expect, but it turned out I really had no idea it'd be so good.
|Eye & The Arrow|
The first of those local bands was the new Eye & The Arrow. A little less than two weeks ago, Eye & The Arrow emerged as a band, offering up a recorded practice session with six songs titled The Center of the Sea. At about the same time they came onto the scene, they were booked for their first gig as openers for the show last night. The first time I listened to The Center of the Sea, I instantly caught onto the folk vibe but other than that I was a little underwhelmed. Still, I put the album onto my iPod and gave it a few more listens and suddenly their songs, as crude as the recordings were, started to stick into my head. Once that started happening, I couldn't wait to hear what these guys could do live where I'd be able to hear their full sound cleanly.
|Eye & The Arrow|
Eye & The Arrow took their places on stage and started with the song that stuck with me the most on their recording, "Mexico". Right away I was captivated by what they were doing. This song featured no drums, instead the drummer had an electric guitar on his lap and he would created ambient sound by sliding across the strings. The singer/guitarist joined in with a nice classic country-esque guitar riff and began to softly but passionately sing. The crispness of the sound in the live setting was at least 1,000 times better than the recorded version, and I love the moody folk-country sound they've got going on.
|Eye & The Arrow|
They continued to play more songs I'd heard off of the EP and each live version was incredible. My favorites besides the opening "Mexico" were; the blues laden "Tamales", the Paleo-esque "Lights Down Lown", and the folky country-blues "Stutter Beat". I really enjoyed the drum work of this band. It's hard to pick out the different things they do on drums in their recording, but in performance it all comes to life. The drummer is constantly tweaking his kit between songs; adding shakers, switching symbols, going from mallets to brushes - all the while keeping a seemingly simple yet intricate beat. Paired with the folky-blues guitar and solid bass work of the other two band members, they deliver a splendid sound. It was an honor to catch these guys in their first live performance, because that just means it gets better from here on out. If you are a fan of indie folk/country/blues, check out Eye & The Arrow.
|Kitty Vincent and Ryan Stubbs of Le Divorce|
Next up was Le Divorce, a band with a lot of local accolades but one I hadn't yet seen. At first, I wasn't sure how their somewhat grungy nineties alternative rock sound would blend with what I'd just heard from the previous band and what I'd hear from the headliner, but then they started playing and it didn't matter. For a lot of the crowd (especially those at the show specifically for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.), I think it was an unexpected change of pace that the audience wasn't quite sure how to react to. For me, I knew what I was in for and was ready for some high energy grunge and post-punk alternative rock 'n' roll.
|Joe Grobelny of Le Divorce rocking in the Corporate Lounge|
I'd heard that the band had a lot of stage presence and they did not at all disappoint. Throughout the set they performed each song with fervor and all members of the band were incredibly dynamic on stage. They have a sound that pays homage to a lot of nineties alternative rock greats; The Pixies, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey among others, but they do it in a way that is definitively their own rather than being a carbon copy of anything before. It was a good call when they made a set change to pick up the energy level and tore into the song "In The Waves". I really liked the moody "Under the Boxcars" and "6 Feet Under" was absolutely amazing, starting with the feedback loop and ending with guitarist Joe Grobelny coming off stage and playing the guitar amongst the crowd while taking a seat in the Corporate Lounge (Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. had a small roped off area to the side of the stage where they would seat a few lucky fans, complete with tables and massage chairs).
|Le Divorce had incredible energy|
This band is not only high energy but they seem to understand each other very well, keeping the whole listening experience very fluid but highly entertaining. If you're into that nineties alternative-rock and post-grunge sound, you need to make it out to the next Le Divorce show. Their style may not have been the best fit for what other music was happening at the show last night, but they are extremely good at what they do and would flourish in an ideal setting.
Finally it was time for the main event, and having listened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. for a while now, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect. If you've listened to their album It's A Corporate World, you'll know it's a collection of electronic infused slightly folky indie rock. Like most shows with folkish bands, I expected to see two guys out there on stage delivering heartfelt songs in minimalist fashion. But Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein are from Detroit rock city, and they sure as hell know how to rock as hard as any band I've seen.
|Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s live drummer|
They are touring with a live drummer, and he started the night off on stage drumming fiercely to a rework of Fedde Le Grand's "Put Your Hands Up For Detroit" as Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein stormed the stage in slick Detroit Tigers track suits and took their places; one behind a large wooden "J", the other behind a large wooden "R". Another set of wooden letters framed the background, another "J" and "R" to spell out Jr. Jr. From there the band went immediately into the anthemic "We Almost Lost Detroit" to instantly stir the crowd into a frenzy.
|Joshua Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.|
The first difference I noticed between their record and their live set is how much more energy comes out live. They went into the dance-pop song "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen" next and it sounded way more energetic and fierce, in an incredibly good way. Having live drumming as opposed to a drum machine adds so much dimension to each song it was unreal. I always wondered where all the ambient background vocals came from, and it turns out Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. samples their own singing live, singing into an old '80s handset converted into a microphone that changes the texture of the vocals, looping and layering back the singing into their songs.
|Daniel Zott of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.|
Even the calmly mooded "Morning Thought" got some extra rock 'n' roll treatment, giving the song incredible oomph and forcing every member of the audience to dance wildly. The quirky and humorous "When I Open My Eyes" had much of the crowd singing along. Little did the crowd know that they'd be singing along to some Whitney Houston, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. masterfully transitioned from "If It Wasn't You" to a short cover of "I Will Always Love You". That was absolutely amazing. They also dropped a completely brand new song, performed for the very first time, which I think is called "Don't Tell Me" - such an incredible song, complete with their usual smart lyricism. If this is a preview of what else is to come, then I cannot wait for the next round.
I really didn't expect much for stage production from this performance, but this time I was glad to be wrong. Those wooden letters would light up to the music, flashing Jr. Jr. to the beat while the band would rock out to flashing strobe lights. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, it did. They finished their set with "Simple Girl" and "Vocal Chords", two of the most iconic songs on the album. As the crowd was already dancing furiously, they were treated with a shower of bubbles from bubble machines, heightening the party atmosphere. We're talking about the Hi-Dive here, and you usually never see any sort of extra production at shows at this venue. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. stopped at nothing to deliver the most amazing experience. Somehow, even that wasn't enough for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. It came time for an encore, and although the Hi-Dive has no backstage, you could already tell the crowd was incredibly worked up and needed some more of that Detroit rock medicine. Plus, they hadn't yet performed my favorite song on the album, so I knew Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was about to hit us with some more goodness.
|Joshua Epstein in a fluorescent jacket|
All the lights went off, and out of nowhere the stage was illuminated by black lights. The drummer was wearing a fluorescent orange trucker hat so that immediately caught my eye. Little did I know it'd get even better. In each far corner of the stage, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott slipped on checkered fluorescent jackets; glowing brightly yellow, pink, green and blue. In the center of the back of each jacket was a fluorescent "JR". I'm always game for a black light party, and the soundtrack for this one was nothing short of superb. For the first song of their encore, they rekindled the spirit of Whitney Houston and gave it a heavy dose of Detroit rock in a magnificent cover of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". If there was a body in the building that had somehow managed to keep from dancing for any previous song, there was absolutely nothing they could do to keep from moving wildly during that song. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. then proclaimed their love for the city of Denver and serenaded the audience with my favorite song, "Nothing But Our Love".
|Daniel Zott had to come back for one more|
I don't know if Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. really knew how much Denver loved them too, because that was supposed to be their final song. But after constant cries for one more song from a still frenzied crowd, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. pulled out the final trick they had up their sleeves. "We'll play another song, but we haven't practiced this one in three months!" said Daniel Zott. They gave the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. treatment to another '80s dance classic - Steve Winwood's "Higher Love". By the end of the night, everyone was a sweaty mess. It was definitely the most passionate audience I'd ever seen at the Hi-Dive. I'm still amazed at how perfectly Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s music translated into a live performance. I was already a huge fan, but after last night, I can't even begin to express how much I love this band now. It was easily one of the best shows I've seen this year, so check them out the next chance you can. They are just that incredibly good.
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