Just in time for Thanksgiving, Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. celebrated with a packed house of fans at the newly dubbed Jack White Theater last Saturday, a venue inside The Masonic Temple. The set featured an all-local lineup that included fantastic openers Flint Eastwood, who put on a set of the rowdy garage-fueled rock that’s brought the spotlight on many local acts in the last decade.
The venue, a beautiful, mid-size theater spot with individual seating, set the bar for an evening of celebration—it’s clear why a certain Detroit-rooted benefactor might want to save it. But signs of some of the venue’s troubles came through when, midway into Flint Eastwood’s opening set, the lighting rigs went down, and the audience watched (or tried to watch) the band play in the dark. The lights would flicker on and off sporadically, but by the time our Detroit darling act took the stage, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was illuminated only by a few lightbulbs placed in front of each member’s individual stage location and the now-signature, lighted “JR” standup letters.
But this is Detroit, people. And if you think a lack of light would stop a party here, you’ve never had to work around being a reluctant customer of DTE. The band ripped through a set of fan favorites to a crowd lit up only by the occasional house-light or two, but no one was complaining by the time the band hit the stage. After all, we came here for a unique experience—seeing a once-local band that’s now a national act. Now we’ve all got a tale of the time we saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. in the dark, a shared experience that made the packed theater seem much smaller than it really was.
Along with the great stage show established by the band on its debut album’s tours, the addition of fourth member and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Visger brought new energy on plenty of cuts, including the absolutely-mandatory-on-this-night-only cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” and a recently unearthed live cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” But many of the star tracks of the night came from the band’s newest full-player, The Speed of Things. I’m a huge fan of many of the tracks—“Run” hasn’t received nearly enough attention this year, and “Dancefloor” was marked as one of our favorites of the summer, but live these were sparked with new energy that you might not catch on the album.
But as much as the night belonged to the band, which was returning home with open arms before kicking off another national tour, the guys were quick to embrace the night. Josh Epstein called the event a career highlight and joked that singer Daniel Zott’s uncles made up most of the crowd. The founding members—Zott and Epstein—delivered line after thankful line to the crowd, proving that those matching ‘80s Tigers jackets and multiple appearances on the local news weren’t just a good show.