Ironic and Serious MusicMay 12th, 2011
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Mercury Lounge – May 11, 2011
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. sound-checked in street clothes but took the stage in stock-car jumpsuits last night. The band’s name already steeped in a few layers of irony, this represented its traditional performance attire: a winking ode to a NASCAR culture that we can only assume the group has absolutely no serious interest in. However, on this night at a very sold-out Mercury Lounge, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. possessed a second wrinkle, unzipping their race suits to unveil real business suits, one of them of the three-piece variety. The two frontmen sealed this reveal with a completely straight-faced handshake, lips pursed and brows furrowed for maximum impact—a kind of poststructuralist irony so serious that it could never be, and so planned and willfully wry that it could not help being all business.
Opening with “Morning Thought,” the first single off the forthcoming LP, It’s a Corporate World, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. pounded through an arrangement of delicate two-part harmonies and slamming drums. The main lyric, “I’m not thinking about it,” proved to be a useful antimantra for a band that so carefully plans so many of its moves (and here it is worth noting that the group tours with gigantic homemade wooden letters that light up and spell “JR”).
The band then shifted back into material from last year’s outstanding Horse Power EP, playing “Simple Girl,” blending immediately into “Vocal Chords,” a love song that doesn’t feel solipsistic or indulgent, resting instead on inevitability: “Well, it’s got to be the way it is.” The fourth song of the night was unknown to the crowd, a cut off their upcoming LP, but in the bridge the band ad-libbed the now-famous “New York, I love you,” a reference to the now-defunct LCD Soundsystem’s ode to the city of the same name. It was a slice of earnest irony before the band played a completely self-serious and quite excellent cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” It would have been absolutely serious if everyone in the crowd hadn’t been smiling so hard. —Geoff Nelson