With fuzzed-out bombast, Detroit electropop outfit Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. cruised through a tight set at Neumos Wednesday night.
If the smell of Washington’s newest legal vice wafting in the air wasn’t enough to set a party atmosphere, the funky, self-assured “Hiding,” from 2013’s “The Speed of Things,” did the trick. The band wisely chose to eschew the subtlety of its recordings for in-your-face bass meant to get people’s bodies moving.
The crowd didn’t know exactly what to make of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” but it was proof that DEJJ isn’t afraid to be quirky. It also started to reveal the effective interplay between Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott, who formed the band in 2009 as a duo. Live, they play with drummer Mike Higgins and swap guitar, bass and keyboard duties with Jon Visger.
The crowd was there to dance away a rainy night and DEJJ obliged with “Don’t Tell Me,” a breezy, well-crafted song that evoked feelings of sunnier climes, before slowing down with the atmospheric, overbearing “Morning Thought,” the first track off their 2011 debut “It’s A Corporate World.”
It wasn’t until the ebullient, sugary dance-pop of “Run” that the band — and the delirious crowd — really hit its stride. That’s when they turned on the animations that played against the giant white ball that dominated the middle of the stage.
The animations worked perfectly. Many of them were 8-bit fantasies, like the whimsical nude Adam and Eve that played along with “Mesopotamia,” which saw the band veer toward jangly, straight-ahead indie rock. The animated ball is nothing new; Animal Collective has used something similar in the past. Still, it was surprisingly effective in engaging the crowd and helped push the show to the next level.
Everyone likes an encore, and DEJJ obliged with a generous three-song coda. Still, Wednesday was one case where the band might have been better served by ending things early with their brilliant cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit.” They turned Scott-Heron’s smooth R&B masterpiece into an angry piece of hip-hop infused rock that had the crowd bouncing, fists in the air.
Where can you even go from there? When the band came back out for an encore, Epstein told a funny story about a nightmare he had about opening for Kid Rock and then wisely launched into the most atmospheric song of the night, “The Haunting,” which built layers of satisfying details on top of a chewy bass line.
The opening band, Chad Valley, deserves some recognition as well. The brainchild of London-based producer Hugo Manuel, Chad Valley combined helium vocals with club-ready beats and turned in an energetic set that had the crowd ready to keep dancing.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails