Full Disclosure: I only knew one JR JR song (“James Dean,” a slow electronic tinged ballad about wishing they were as cool as the actor) before I saw them in concert on October 9th. Great American Music Hall’s stage was dark with only a synth, a keyboard, and drum set visible, until a colorful huge “JR JR” logo lit it up. The logo changed colors and patterns during the whole show.
The crowd was calm until JR JR’s Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein and their backing band came out to greet them. Dressed in simple, well-tailored, all white outfits reminiscent of Hollywood Golden Era glamour, Zott and Epstein looked almost like twins onstage, with the exception of Zott’s curly long hair, which was tied into a side-pony anyone would be jealous of.
JR JR’s crowd danced almost hypnotically to their songs, dreamily twisting their bodies to the beat in the dark. This scene was reminiscent of seeing Lana Del Rey live, and JR JR’s sound and look is somehow reminiscent of her too. Their music and clothing is clearly influenced by the music of the 60s and 70s and is accented by electronic and hip hop influences which create a unique sound. This is best seen in songs like “In The Middle” and “Simple Girl,” which they seemed particularly happy to play.
The band energetically played through most of their discography, from the folk-tinged “It’s a Corporate World,” to their electronic-influenced new album, “JR JR.” They also pleased the crowd by playing their biggest hit (so far) “Gone,” which hit the top 5 of Spotify’s US Viral Chart and has been featured on E!’s latest reality show “I Am Cait.”
I arrived in time to see the show’s opener, Hippo Campus, another Midwest-based band (Minneapolis, in their case). Hippo Campus, named after part of the brain, is a more traditional indie band, meaning they don’t use electronic instruments: just guitars, a bass, and drums.
If JR JR sounds like a happier Lana Del Rey, Hippo Campus sounds like a younger Vampire Weekend. Their just-released debut album, “The Halocline” features the same clean production, strong interwoven guitars, repetitive drums, and the clear, weirdly-accented vocals that made Vampire Weekend a hit. Like JR JR, Hippo Campus was enthusiastic and interacted with the crowd, while pushing through songs like “Suicide Saturday” and “Souls,” one of their first singles.
JR JR and Hippo Campus both played an amazingly well-performed and dynamic show that had the crowd dancing the whole time. Even though I went in with barely any knowledge of either band, I left as a genuine fan.
Photo courtesy of Caleb D’oleire