SXSW Preview: Tapes N Tapes & Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Everything about the Tapes ‘n Tapes show at the Jack Pot in Lawrence, Kansas hurt.  There were sound problems that hurt, and bad lighting that hurt. Even various band members throughout the evening hit their heads on the low ceilings, which I assume also caused a bit of hurt. However, all inevitably ended up in the “hurts so good” category, which was proven the next morning when even I hurt a bit from all the dancing that ensued from one hell of a show.

The night started off with speakers that were cranked up to the point of near distortion, but regardless the harmonies and catchy beats still filled the bar as local band, O Giant Man gave their all. The four piece consisted of the traditional guitar, bass and drums set up along with the evermore present keyboard. With overlaying melodies combined with a harmonizing that was steeped equally with “bop, bop, bops” and “do-wops”, the band seemed intent on showing everyone a good time. The music was drenched in happiness and sunshine, but not in an overbearing way. It was subtle, but every song still seemed intent on giving off a warm fuzzy feeling.  The catchiness of each tune made it hard to believe that, not only were they local, but that I had never heard of them. This flair for pop was met by consistent enthusiasm as every band member jumped around and danced from their first notes to the final song. They certainly set the tone for the evening; and I definitely look forward to checking them out again.

While I felt a sense of content whimsy after O Giant Man, a feeling of dread began to overwhelm me as band number two, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. began setting up. The band name, in itself, caused me to shudder, but why, oh why did the stage need to be clad in American flags?  Is that a racing flag on the tom drum?  Do those lights being hauled onto stage actually spell out “Jr. Jr.”? Where did the vodka go? It was definitely time for a refill. I recognized that the whole thing could potentially be a joke, merely a comment on a sub-culture in Americana that so many of us find ourselves looking away from in near shame. But, even as a tongue-in-cheek reference, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Would the entire set be filled with engines and beer references? Should I do away with my vodka diet and switch to shots?

While I may never be entirely sure what I was expecting from a band whose décor is themed around NASCAR, as the first notes played, I instantly realized that my stereotyping was unfair and it was quickly discarded. With light, airy vocals and melodies that are so breezy and atmospheric that I almost forgot that it was still winter, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. quickly filled the room with music that was instantly old school while still maintaining elements of modernity. It came as no surprise when the first notes of the Beach Boys infamous “God Only Knows” was introduced because it was apparent throughout that Brian Wilson was definitely an influence. However, even the cover was tweaked enough that they maintained their own sound. The testosterone-infused pseudo-image was offset with a sweetness that they maintain throughout the entirety of their set. While they truly are a testament to not “judging a book by its cover,” I can’t help but worry that their image may be scaring off more potential fans than drawing them it. This is completely a shame. What had begun a lackluster crowd waiting patiently for the headliner to start transformed, by the set’s conclusion, into a crowded floor filled with people jumping and grooving. They were no longer waiting for something better to come along, everyone seemed content with what they had.

However, after two fantastic peppy danced-infused sets, the audience was certainly pumped as Tapes ‘n Tapes walked onto the stage. Maybe it was the drastic shift from the theatrical attire donned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., but it was apparent from Tapes ‘n Tapes that they were interested in doing nothing more than put on a good show. Unfortunately, this was going to prove to be more a difficult task than they anticipated. While sound problems were foreshadowed throughout the night, everything culminated into an exasperating mess as soon as the headliners walked onto the stage. Throughout the night, they fought against feed back, bad amps and a lead vocals mike that desperately needed to be turned up. But the band pushed through. While the band’s communal frustration could be felt towards the beginning of the show, Josh Grier (the lead vocalist) announced that they would aspire to “talk less, and rock more” and eventually the technical difficulties ceased to matter and the rocking inevitably won.

The theme of happy danceable music continued with Tapes ‘n Tapes. Every song was played with enthusiasm and clamor. Reminiscent of Modest Mouse, they still manage to maintain their own originality. Matt Kretzman multi-tasked with a variety of instruments and even opted to throw in a few trumpet solos throughout the set. It was obvious that this band knew what it was doing, even with the problems that they dealt with throughout the entirety of the show. There was nothing showy that occurred and there was a lack of vanity that could be felt throughout the show. This truly is a band that is interested solely in the music. They played a tight set and seemed to legitimately enjoy every second that they got to be on stage. I even caught a few band members singing with their eyes closed.

This zeal obviously transmitted into the audience as well because by the end of the night there was a frenzy of happy concert goers, dancing and bopping to every catchy tune that Tape ‘n Tapes played. Their awesomeness was so apparent that even the token drunk guy who had been playing stumbling cheerleader all night even got a little too exited. Jumping onto the stage he felt the need to show the room his own personal dance moves and it was difficult to not snicker as the band collectively rolled their eyes as they attempted to get out of the way. While Tapes ‘n Tapes may not be the most charismatic of all time, their fervor and talent shows throughout. It was in this simplicity that made them so endearing and it was in their catchy melodies that would make me happily go see them again.

A true testament to how the most important aspect of a good show is truly just the music. Yes, sometimes shows hurt a little, but if there is talent, energy and passion all the bad parts inevitably disappear. While the night had its perils, ultimately the music prevailed.

It’s worth noting that both Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Tapes ‘n Tapes are currently traveling west and are destined to both play shows at this years South by Southwest. Both are certainly worth checking out.

By Erin Tuttle

Photos By Becca Armstrong

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