Words and photos by Farrah Skeiky
Too True is easily the Dum Dum Girls’ best endeavor to date, and even without the help of Bret Easton Ellis or H&M, it’s an early contender for Top Albums of 2014 lists we’ll see in nine months. After Saturday’s sold out performance at Black Cat, we learn that while the aforementioned names aren’t as crucial to the groups’ critical success as the album itself, names themselves speak volumes.
Let’s start with Blouse, a Portland trio who are about as interesting as their name. Their latest album proves that they’ve got more to offer than they actually offer. Blouse are fairly inoffensive to listen to at home, but I was hoping that their live show would change my mind. When you’re dreamy and hazy and sweet, it’s easy to lose sight of dynamics when creating a cohesive album, and touring is an opportunity to correct that. But what we received instead was a loud, monotone drone, in which layers became muddy and vocals were so lost that they didn’t add anything to the experience at all. However, Blouse’s live show has one saving grace, and that’s the addition of live drums. Persistent and powerful through the entire performance, they were the only sound that wasn’t completely muddled in layers that just didn’t translate well from their most recent album. Blouse is on the precipice of being engaging and dynamic, and I hope more touring helps them refine their methods.
And as most of us know by now, Dum Dum Girls are named in the same vein as 60s bad girl groups– the girls that wear all black and cut class to smoke in the bathroom; the girls your mom told you to stay away from. Yes, the origins are actually that of a Vaselines album and an Iggy Pop song, but in many ways, Dum Dum Girls would have gracefully fit into those eras of music as trouble to be reckoned with. Even after taking up a much dreamier, decorated sound, Dee Dee Penny and co. stay true to their image and their personality as a whole. They’re still the bad girls who fell for the bad boys, but highly vulnerable. Being this vulnerable lyrically makes us want them or want to be them even more.
The rousing set opened with the girls walking on stage to Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” (no Kayne antics to be found here, he doesn’t lay claim to that classic), with plastic translucent flowers lit up with LEDs attached to their mic stands. They wasted no time in diving into Bedroom Eyes, the ever-charming single off their second album that brings even more meaning to their name. It’s as if to say these dumb, silly girls have fallen for the guy that only does them wrong. We can all picture this guy, right? The kind who sets you on an emotional rollercoaster, making you hate him one day and adore him the next– the kind of guy that can be the topic of both I Got Nothing and He Gets Me High at once.
Even these old songs have become much more dynamic live, compared to the last time I saw the group. Too True is even more lyrically sound than previous efforts, possibly more vulnerable too. But nothing about the performance or the girls’ body language is vulnerable. Dee Dee’s an expert at swiveling her hips behind her new Fender in a short vinyl dress for an hour, and guitarist Jules Medeiros is a marvel to watch as she gets lost in her craft. The only show of vulnerability is an occasional glint in Dee Dee’s eyes
The set is an even mix of songs past and present, but it’s obvious that most of this crowd has been introduced to the girls in recent months with Too True‘s release. They’ve done their homework, though– an impressive number of fans know the words to Lord Knows and make a point to make that known. Dum Dum Girls like to keep an aura of mystery about them, but their very familiar subject matter of heartbreak and frustrating boys makes them extremely relatable and cuts through that aura almost immediately. It’s safe to say that everyone in that room identifies at least one Dum Dum Girls song with a relationship gone awry or a complicated love.
Perhaps best of all is the touch of psychedelia in their newest material. It makes each song even dreamier than the last, and it’s just psychedelic enough that it’s noticeable but not a parody, a trap that many fans fall into quite easily. Those well crafted waves come to a climax in the last song of the encore, Coming Down. Dee Dee abandons her guitar and easily convinces us of the turbulent emotions that this song must stir up every time she sings it, and the feeling’s contagious. In an extremely charming fashion, Dum Dum Girls are able to make us feel what they’re feeling before we even realize it, bringing to life the chorus of Are You Okay: “What do you feel?/I feel it too.”