Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Concert review: Girls, Dum Dum Girls

Girls, Dum Dum Girls
Monday April 5 2010 at Mr. Small's
with Lisa, Jessie, Robert

The Dum Dum Girls rocked my world. I first heard their single "Jail La La" back in January, loved their sound, bought the 7", and marveled at the B-side track when I received the package at home and played it at 45 rpm straight into my ears: it's a molasses-laden version of The Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire", but mostly in the viscous sense with only a hint of sweetness. They opened their set at Mr. Small's with this cover song and I knew it would be a good show. The singer, Dee Dee, stared at the audience for most of their set with a deep glow in her eyes, and they all had a cultivated seriousness to their demeanors, dressed in goth black with black striped tights and dark, dark hair (except for the fire-red-headed bassist and the drummer with a big floppy hat [noted Jessie: "Hats are making a comeback!"]). Their songs live in the dark, fuzzy pop genre, with reverberating guitar strums crashing in waves over the beautiful (up to) three part female vocal harmonies, backed by a simple but driving drumbeat. I noticed the drummer seemed to have trouble with her monitor or sound system or something, which disturbed a couple of the songs and threw her off, alas. But no matter, the singer's amazingly spot-on-key vocals and penetrating stare and whimsical little guitar flails, plus the other guitarist's backing harmonies and focused playing were enough to distract my attention from the drummer's tribulations and the bassist's scary and robotic aloofness. Robert noted an obvious homogeneity of their sound, but that doesn't bother me; it's exactly what I want them to sound alike. Their full-length LP
"I Will Be"
arrived in my mailbox only a week or so before the show and I had already listened to it at least 5 times by showtime. It's all-around solid, and it really showcases how well they've perfected their form in such a short time together as a band. I'm looking forward to more music from them, even if it does all sound the same.

Girls rocked the house (well, converted church), as well, but in a different way. I remember when their internet buzz really exploded last year, and I listened to a few of their songs and didn't really see what the big deal was. "Lust for Life" is irresistibly catchy and fun, but the others were just . . . underwhelming (i.e. "meh"). It turns out that their debut album, Album, really works better as a cohesive unit, and specifically in a live setting. Any one song is good enough, in its own right, but it's the amalgam of genre-blurring, multi-tempo, simple-yet-beautifully melodic songs that really makes this band good, not to mention the bare-facedly honest lyrics from Christopher Owens, no doubt due to his
crazy backstory. Their set veered from psychedelia-laden guitar riffs to crunchy blues to country twang to shoegaze solos just oozing with feedback. It was an all around super cool combo. Also, the crowd seemed rather sparse for this show, considering the apparent popularity of the band on the web. I stayed towards the front/middle of the stage for most of the show, whereas usually the front area of Mr. Small's is packed with teenagers and I end up hanging around the back area by the bar. This time, I got a chance to see both bands up close (standing a couple feet from the Girls singer during the Dum Dum Girls set, for instance) and really hear their lyrics.

Speaking of the Girls singer, he had an intriguing charismatic aloofness to him; he was very much involved in his music, not looking up too often and limiting between-song banter, but this made everyone (or, at least me) seem all the more interested in hearing what he had to say in his songs. Consider the heart-wrenching-cum-jubilant chorus of
"Hellhole Ratrace" (around the 1:00 mark in the video):
"And I don't wanna cry my whole life thru
I want to do some laughing too
So come on, come on, come on, come on and laugh with me
And I don't wanna die without shaking up a leg or two
Yeah I wanna do some dancing too
So come on, come on, come on, come on and dance with me"

Musically, in addition to the mix of sounds and styles, their rhythm section was fantastic. The drummer kept perfect time with lots of fills and flourishes, including a few drumstick twirls whenever he had more than a nanosecond of waiting to do and a few sections of songs where he played his kit with maracas. The bass player was also quite good, and he's a big part of the songwriting duo with the singer, too. Their overall set was really good and enjoyable, except for a super loud section at the end, which a few
other Pittsburgh music
blogs have pointed out in more detail. Other than that, it was great, and they came back for a three song encore, even for a smallish crowd.

In my post-show notes from later that night, I wrote this sentence:
"Reminded me how simplicity can be great if you're talented, and how "cool" has so many different definitions."
I'm not entirely sure what I meant by that, but there it is.

Dum Dum Girls:
"I Will Be" live @ SXSW 2010
"Hey Sis" live @ SXSW 2010
"Be My Baby" (Ronettes cover) live
"Bhang Bhang" live @ Pabst Theater, Milwaukee on 04/11/10

"Laura" music video
Bunch of videos from a live set @ The Blue Note in Columbia, MO on 2/8/2010, only a few weeks before this show (should give you a good sense of what this show was like):
"Hellhole Ratrace" and "Morning Light"

Show review from Spinner magazine posted the next day.

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