April 14, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. / The Hard Lessons / Cookies - Bowery Ballroom - April 1, 2012

I have been wanting see Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. for quite awhile. The first time I heard the duo was when their publicist sent me a digital copy of their CD. And the second time was on, a daytime radio show I often listen to, called Soundcheck. The last time Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. was in town, the press list was cut down and I got nixed. I finally made it onto the list for Sunday night's show. Together with opening bands, The Hard Lessons and Cookies, the show was an evening's worth of music that went from Detroit to Brooklyn and back.

The Hard Lessons

The Hard Lessons are a rock band out of Detroit, who's first recording was released in 2004. According Wikipedia, The Hard Lessons' music has been featured on TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and Friday Night Lights, as well as a Chevrolet commercial. When the trio walked on stage at 9PM, I wasn't really sure what to expect. On the day of the show, I listened to some of The Hard Lessons' music from their MYSPACE page but I hadn't listened enough to get a good handle on their sound.

The Hard Lessons opened up their set with "See You Again," which they currently have a video for on their website. You can also get a free digital copy of their newest CD Arms Forest, by adding yourself to their email list. The feeling I got from watching The Hard Lessons was that they definitely are a rock band, though their opening song felt a bit country. After the song Augie Visocchi yelled out "I Love New York City" before telling the audience how the band, having been here several times, always enjoyed their stay.

The second song was surprisingly a blues rocker in the spirit of The Black Keys or maybe even more so Jack White. The song was one of my favorites in the bands set. It was also the point where Augie worked in RnR guitar stances and his sister Korin Louise Visocchi AKA Ko Ko worked her hair by whipping it back and forth as she played keys.

Before doing "Come Back To Me" from the bands first recording, Augie yelled out something about not hearing his amp and how he was going to be pissed. Not sure if it was a attention ploy (as in forcing the audience to come alive) or he was really angry. Whatever the case it scared me a little. So, when he was standing next to me during Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s set, I was tempted to introduce myself but wasn't sure I was going to get a friendly reception. And so I didn't.

Augie announced "Roma Termini" as the bands dance number, but it was more of a fast rocker song sung by Ko Ko. Toward the end of the set, there were two songs that were musically most memorable. The first being "Milk and Sugar" which Augie referred to as an "oldie but a goodie." And the second song being the title cut from their CD "Arms Forest," which felt very 90s grunge.

One of things I noticed from the balcony was Ko Ko's keyboard setup. She had two keyboard controllers which had different sounds but she used the controllers like a piano player would use a full piano. The left hand for the bass and right hand for chords. Okay - it wasn't a revelation but I found it interesting to watch her left hand play the bassline.

The band ended their set with Augie's playing some guitar licks and letting his guitar fall out of his hands and land hanging over the edge of the stage. The band walked off stage as the guitar resounded with feedback and distortion. When the sound stopped the band came back out to breakdown. All in all, I enjoyed The Hard Lessons set. I look forward to running across them again in the future.

The Hard Lessons Set List
1. See You Again
2. Sound The Silent Alarm
3. Come Back To Me
4. Roma Termi 
5. Everything Away 
6. See and be Scene 
7. Milk and Sugar 
8. The Arms Forest. 
9. Sit and Argue

The Hard Lessons Are:
Augie Visocchi -Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Korin "Ko Ko" Louise Visocchi - Vocals, Piano & Synthesizers
Ryan Vandeberghe -drums


Since I only saw Cookies a week prior to seeing them on Sunday, I'm not going to give an entire round down of their set. As with many bands, who perform on a regular basis, Cookies did the exact set they had done the week before but modified it by adding "Face Down" as the third song.

Though they are relatively newly formed, the members of Cookies have been part of the other bands, mostly notably member Ben Sterling, who was formerly with the band Mobius. Cookies have been around since 2010, but seem to be releasing their music piecemeal. I'm not sure if the reasons are lack of funds, honing their sound or a marketing strategy. On Cookies website, they have free downloads of their music. Since their show on April 1, they added "Crybaby," which wasn't there the week before.

Cookies were much looser and seemed to be having a lot more fun the second time around at Bowery Ballroom. When I spoke to Melissa Metrick the week before, during the Housse de Racket gig, she mentioned she was happy that she got a feel of the space. It definitely worked, the band was cookin' and Metrick literally let her hair out/down. (It was in a braid the week before.) All four musicians in Cookies lined up downstage, but bass player Wyeth Hansen seemed to be having a good old time dancing with bass in hand behind the other three musicians from stage left to stage right where drummer Ian Ainley was positioned.

Now that I am familiar with Cookies music, I look foward to year or so from when I am sure the band will be headlining.

Cookies Set List
1.Go Getter 
3.Face Down 
4.Wilderness Tips 
5.The Dream 
7.Summer Jam 

Cookies are:
Ben Sterling - singer/ programmer /guitarist
Melissa Metrick - vocals / Keyboards
Ian Ainley - drums
Wyeth Hansen - bass

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.'s set began with touring drummer Mike Higgins being the first on stage. A sequenced synth pattern was kicked off as Higgins played some drum rolls with mallets. Not too far behind Higgins, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott set themselves behind their instruments and started the song "Morning Thought." Zott sang the lead vocal, with guitar in hand, as he danced around. Epstein soon joined in on background vocals. Epstein had two mics, one conventional and one strange rectangular mic which I assume was for vocal effects. But that doesn't explain why he used it whenever he whistled.

Even though both guys wore the same jackets at the start of the show, Epstein looked Ivy League (or at least like a member of Kraftwerk), while Zott came off as the stonner college dropout. The bands look, as well as their attitude and the festive lighting all made for a fun show.

The fun also included the light-up cut outs of the initials J & R , as well as the confetti that would come later during the show. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr nah-nah-nah-nahed their way through their second song, "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen," bubbles came out of one of the two vents that were placed on either side of the stage.

For "When I Opened My Eyes," Zott handled the vocals, while Epstein moved from his keyboard to the drum that was placed center stage. Zott was feeling it toward the end song as he moved back and forth working his hair, shouting/singing "you better shut your mouth - their watchin."

I think it was "If It Wasn’t You" that Epstein said was a song about the first girl he French kissed. He ended the setup by stating the woman now lives in New York and is a chiropractor. "If It Wasn't You" eventually turned into a mesh-up with two songs about New York, as Zott adorned a headpiece that looked like the Statue of Liberty's crown. I think the mesh-up was in line with what Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. is especially known for - their covers. The first cover I ever heard them do was "God Only Knows" from an early EP Horse Power. The arrangement is sparse and true to the original but with a reggae strum on guitar.

After doing the title song to their current CD, "It's A Corporate World," Epstein switched to guitar from keyboards and said "I know it's a Sunday but come the fuck on let's do it." I'm not quite sure what the "it" was that we were supposed to be doing, but if "it" included enjoying the music - I was. The boys went into "Simple Girl," which is a song that reminds me of The Rolling Stones, "She's a Rainbow." The main riff in "Simple Girl" is very close to the piano riff in the Jagger/Richard's composition. It's so obvious, I'm sure I'm not the only person who noticed. But I digress, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. went directly from "Simple Girl" to " Vocal Chords" by singing "Ah, ah, ah's" in harmony as Higgins played a drum beat and the light bulbs, in the J.R. cut outs, blinked.

"Fisherman" was a song that I wasn't expecting to hear because besides being the last song on the CD, I didn't find it on any of the duo's past set lists on-line. However, I think since the band announced that Sunday night's concert was the last before going back into the studio, they decided to do songs they didn't ordinarily do.

The band requested a singalong for "Skeletons." This time round Epstein took over the vocals and Zott played the drum that was center stage. Epstein and Zott had the floor competing against the balcony to sing the line "do wha bop bah," to which the audience willingly complied.

I knew I wasn't the only person waiting for "Almost Lost Detroit," and when Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. finally played it, the audience danced and sang along. After thunderous applause the duo ended with "Nothing But Our Love." And although their show could have ended there, the boys came back for an encore including some really fun covers. When Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jr. returned they were wearing day-glo checkered jackets underneath the black lights that were placed in front of them. They were truly a sight to be seen.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Set List 
1. Morning Thought 
2. An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen 
3. When I Open My Eyes 
4. If It Wasn’t You /Meshup: New York, I Love You But You Bring Me Down (LCD Soundsystem Cover)New York (Alicia Keys/ Jay Z cover) 
5. It’s A Corporate World 
6. Simple Girl 
7. Vocal Chords 
8. Fisherman 
9. Don’t Tell Me 
11.We Almost Lost Detroit (Gil Scott Heron Cover) 
12.Nothing But Our Love 


13. Higher Love (Steve Winwood Cover) 
14. Party All The Time (Eddie Murphy Cover)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are:
Joshua Epstein
Daniel Zott
Mike Higgins

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