Concert Review: Dum Dum Girls at Music Hall of Williamsburg: March 26, 2014
I went to see the Dum Dum Girls just under two months ago, at their Mercury Lounge record release show for their newest album, Too True. At the time the entire record – other than the two previously-released singles “Lost Boys and Girls Club” and “Rimbaud Eyes” – were completely new to me, not just in that I hadn’t heard them yet, but in the way that they deviated from the DDGs prior sound. Not to rehash everything I wrote then, but it’s worth repeating that with Too True the band seemingly completed its progression from low-fi garage rock to “glossy, Eighties-tinged guitar pop.” While most critics used some variation of the word “glossy” or “slick” to describe the new album, Stephen Thompson of NPR stood alone on an island by saying that Too True “split the difference between the guitar-fueled rumble of a ’60s basement and the synth-friendly shimmer of an ’80s studio.”
I didn’t originally agree with Thompson, but after last night’s show I’m convinced. The Mercury Lounge show was messy – or as Dee Dee put it, chaotic. But you could see through the travel weariness and illness of the band (and the awful acoustic conditions that night) that they were trying hard to be as polished as they sounded on the album. It was as if they were trying to “split the difference” and were neither here nor there. At Music Hall of Williamsburg, they nailed it. Once again the set list leaned heavily towards the glossier songs in their repertoire. Again they ignored nearly all of debut album I Will Be, even the two big crowd pleasers “Bhang, Bhang, I’m a Burnout” and “Jail La La“. The show opened with the relatively soft “Bedroom Eyes” while the encore consisted of two long, slow songs – Lost Boys and Girls Club and “Coming Down” (the latter just an absolutely phenomenal way to end the show, as Dee Dee carried the notes for longer than should have been humanly possible).
Despite choosing the softer songs though, the girls played them rough. Or, at least rougher than they do on the albums. That’s not to say that they were messy or chaotic like at Mercury – in fact, they were anything but. This was one of the tightest sets I’ve seen in a while, with each member exhibiting a keen focus to the music. You might say they were “in the zone.” Song after song, with virtually no banter in between, the Dum Dum Girls just killed it. The room cheered loudly after every song. If I had to guess, I’d say that this is exactly the sounds that the band has been looking for. Melodic yet aggressive. Rimbaud Eyes – a song I don’t care for much as I think it sways way too far in the pop direction – was played subtly yet critically different than on the album, with much more guitar and a faster tempo, so much so that it was a highlight for me. (Actual highlight of the night, even more than “Coming Down”, was the main set closer. The DDGs covered a song by ’90s band Pale Saints called “Sight of You“. I don’t know the original, but this was easily the best song of the night for me, strange given that it was one of only two or three I didn’t know well.)
When the Dum Dum Girls hit the scene around 2010 there were a wave of female-fronted bands playing similar music. Vivian Girls, Veronica Falls, the Raveonettes and Best Coast all come to mind. With their new album – complemented perfectly by their “old” style – they have separated themselves from the pack without going full pop. I tried to think of a comparison for the new sound and the best one I could come up with was Blondie. Pop music with an edge. It took me a little while to get there, but I’m now on board.
Dum Dum Girls – Music Hall of Williamsburg 3/26/2014 – set list
In The Wake Of You
I Will Be
It Only Takes One Night
I Got Nothing
Are You Okay?
Rest Of Our Lives
He Gets Me High
Under These Hands
Sight of You (Pale Saints cover)
Lost Boys & Girls Club