Friday brought JR JR and Hembree to the Fine Line Music Café in Downtown Minneapolis. Being a fan of SiriusXM Alt Nation (Channel 36) I was excited to catch these two bands since they both make appearances on there from time to time. Entering the show I always perceive seeing at least one fedora as a good sign, I feel like it’s secretly a nudge that the music you are about to listen to is great and if nothing else, the artist is still under the radar. I counted three. We are off to a good start.
Coming to this show was a lot like catching up with an old friend, I wanted to see what these bands had been up to since I last heard them. Hembree, most notably, with their single “Holy Water”, which was released in November of 2016, made the billboard alt radio chart just a year ago with over a million streams. They are on tour with JR JR in preparation for the release of their new EP Had It All (which comes out November 3rd…with a re-released version of “Holy Water” on it, yes, it’s that good of a single.)
JR JR (formerly Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.) found great success with their hit single “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor) back in 2013. Since their name change to just JR JR in 2015, after they made waves with “Gone”, they took a couple years off to make new music and recently this month released their new single, “Control (Secretly Sorry)” to inform the world a new album was on the way.
Hembree really started with great energy, echoing thunderous bass with very sweet undertones of the lead vocals add a good atmosphere of music to be enveloped in. They are a five-piece outfit from Kansas City and seemed very comfortable on a small stage. All five of them were pushed up to the front half of the stage. That included two guitarists, bassist, keyboards/ percussion pad(ist?), and a drummer. Isaac (lead vocals, guitar) has a white sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up. He’s hitting everything from a delicate falsetto to a booming projecting voice very quickly. He transitions so well from song to song, he nails it.
As a band, they run the spectrum of beats and electronic tracking, from light and toned down electronic to loud and majestic straight rock, they understand how to get a crowd with good bass and between their drums and synthy keys the crowd was into them. It is always nice to see a band so excited to share their new music, they had a great mix of slow jams, “Can’t Run Forever” and more upbeat bangers like “Had It All”, the first single off their new EP, is absolutely killer.
They were a great opener for JR JR, not to mention very thankful for the opportunity to open for them, they must have thanked them three or four times before the end of their set. The real joy of Hembree is the breakdowns in their songs; they hit the hooks of their songs and really just give ‘em hell. Which made me imagine how much greater their set would be if they had more room to rock. They clearly love the music they make and it shows. They ended with their banger, “Holy Water”, which if you haven’t heard it yet and are looking for a new song to run to, I advise you to add that bad boy right now. Look for their new EP Had It All coming November 3rd.
As Hembree quickly broke down their set and made way for JR JR, I noticed a significant amount more people showed up, which I always feel is a bummer for the opener, especially since the doors opened at 8pm which is a little later than most shows. I felt there should have been more people to catch Hembree. Anyway, the large circular screen in the back illuminates with JR JR’s name in neon red, people start to cheer as Joshua Epstein’s voice, very auto-tuned, begins to talk about the trying times this country is going through, especially in the last week, and to simply be grateful that we can all be together at least now, in this moment, at this show. I thought it was a nice gesture. Not many people take time to appreciate the time they have together, especially the artist performing.
This made way for their entrance which could have honestly been something out of a Backstreet Boys handbook. They are all wearing entirely white outfits. Josh is wearing a white suit with a large square sequins on the lapels, Daniel Zott, the other brainchild behind JR JR, is wearing a white t-shirt with white overalls. The duo is back!
As they get past their opening two songs, they alert everyone that they were going to be playing a lot of new music, which is why they were off the radar for a bit. Minneapolis is stop #2 on their new tour, they repeat that they are still working out the kinks since they mentioned that their show in Chicago was a bit of a disaster because they are still figuring out a few things in their set and I give them props for being honest.
Right off the bat, I will say JR JR was definitely more auto-tuned than I remembered, or expected…I guess. Their 2013 hit ““If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor)” came in at number five in their order. During this time, Daniel jumped into the crowd to finish the song, it was definitely awesome to see him amp up the crowd. I don’t think bands do that enough, there was the right amount of people that he could do it comfortably. They absolutely love playing the song, they really get into it. They are jumping around. After Dancefloor, Josh requested that lights be pulled down low, he felt like he was performing in a kitchen? I didn’t understand, but they wanted to set a mood, I dig it.
I was quick to understand what JR JR was working on in their set. They go from almost completely electronically influenced music with loud bass beats to acoustic vocals with just a guitar or bass on a moments notice. On top of that, they are dealing with a drummer that has to cope with that volume fluctuation throughout the set list which caused moments where the vocals were completed overpowered by the sound that band was creating with their instruments. This caused me to not really understand what they were saying but in the end that didn’t stop me from bobbing along. As JR JR picks up steam, Josh informs the crowd that Daniel recently adopted two kids, which was the set up for their song “Wild Child” which was fantastic. Daniel loves playing the song as it’s a tribute to his kids.
I also want to add that it was a great experience to experience Josh and Daniel simply talking to each other, the crowd loved their patter, it’s so hard to pull off just small talk and joking with each other without feeling forced, it brings the crowd in closer. Josh ends their small talk by saying that the band works because Daniel is the nice one. Everyone laughs as they get into their song “Wild Child” people love it. Daniel, at this point, has whipped out the big hair that was being held back in a bun. At this point, Josh pulled out his saxophone as they peppered in a quick cover of “Lovefool” by The Cardigans before transitioning in “Day In / Day Out” a tribute to Prince which everyone loved. The screen in the background displayed photos of Prince, such a great moment.
Besides looking like the best wedding band that has graced the Twin Cities this month, JR JR is really coming into their own in terms of range. They go from a banger to a slow dance to upbeat like it’s nothing. They went from an upbeat song like “Wild Child” and transitioned into “Fade Out” which was a slow song quick and people loved it. They keep you guessing and that adds seasoning to the experience. They make it interesting constantly. They understand that they can do more with heir talent and are in the process of mining it. They have a great foundation of music and are still finding out what works for them. As they continue on their tour, I expect some of the small kinks to get worked out and the show will just get better and better. Together with Hembree, the show was definitely a great one.
Here is JR JR’s set list:
- All Around You
- Electrical Energy
- Holding On
- Clean Up
- Nothing But Our Love
- James Dean
- War Zone
- Wild Child
- Fade Out
- Day In / Day Out
- Won’t Last Long
- Same Dark Places
- Simple Girl
- Break My Fall