All words: John Foster
All photos: Chris Chen
It is wounded.
It is real.
The Dum Dum Girls could have given a perfunctory Sunday night show – it is their third stop at the Black Cat in the last 12 months, after all. If they didn’t need playing music so badly, perhaps they might just mail it in, they might not take the care to adorn themselves in matching black, they might hold back on a note or two, saving their voice for a packed house down the road. Instead, they stand before us, living out the simple, yet telling, lyrics that have started to emerge from within. Here they are on a bitter cold night, far away from significant others, relationships frayed by a distance that seems ever expanding, purring, yearning, growling, trading sly smiles and believing that what they are doing matters deep within themselves.
Something important has happened during the period between “I Will Be” and “Only In Dreams;” the band has gone from a playful pop punch that wears it’s influences like a badge of honor, to a collection of strong women, unafraid to be kitten sexy and vulnerable at the same time.
It’s even more interesting when you take in the early days of almost playing lo fi dress up, where they used their look to bring you closer and also to hold you at a distance – to the tight act before you, honed from big stages and long drives, and battered from personal loss and the strains of the road. Now that they have the rush of musical power to realize the girl gang persona, they are actually more frail and approachable, and all the better for it.
They greet the audience by starting off feisty and rocking. Sandy beating a kickass snap, crackle and thump, with Dee Dee and Jules strumming like their lives depended on it. Honestly, they deserve to have a room go totally mental and instantly start pogoing at the first snare crack. In my dreams, this takes place in some alternate universe, as opposed to the DC perfected move of the standing still that is surrounding us.
When they winkingly say they are pulling out an old nugget “for the lovebirds” and Jules’ super simple lead guitar melody kicks in, it’s like the coolest band ever to crash the boys club of 60’s TV show Hullabaloo is playing my high school dance.
With all four singing on slow burner “Hold Your Hand,” adding a higher pitch behind Dee Dee’s full husky tones, they band together like nothing, or no one, could tear them apart. Following up with a psychedelic dance party romp through “Bang Bang” that still causes Dee Dee to adorably squint with every third word, they then build to a HUGE wall of sound, showing that this is a group that gets better every time they play – still. For an act that seemed destined to be treading in such a narrow musical niche, there truly seems to be no limit on their potential for greatness now.
Playing a brand new song (which I will call “I’ve Got Nothing Left To Say From This Day On,” but will surely have shorter title in Dum Dum Land) brings a couple making out and staggering/stumbling/dancing off to the side, and suddenly it is like the band are playing in the rock club scene in Pretty In Pink – which they would have been perfect for, of course. I have little doubt that John Hughes would have loved a Dum Dum Girls show.
“Bedroom Eyes” starts a little motion in the crowd (serious pop gem that one) and an even more intense make out session from the couple in front of me.
They close the set with a cover of the Pale Saints shimmering “Sight of You” and I sing along. I can’t help it. In Dee Dee’s hands it loses the lonely isolation of the original and transforms into an honest yearning for an uncertain partner. Plus, they clearly love playing it.
Coming back for an encore reminds me that they really are the perfect band to just play straight through, but I don’t care when they start in on “Coming Down,” a song that opened their set here a year ago. Apt that it finishes it tonight. It is a pure classic. A track built for belting out on late night drives and to wrap around you in the corner of your bedroom. When Dee Dee hits the sustained “here I go,” it envelopes the entire room like a glorious wash of tone, warmly reverberating, only to see Jules pull it back with each isolated note out of her guitar in reply. It is heart stopping and joyful and somber, in equal measures. Then, they are done.
As they walk off, with Jules throwing her arm around Dee Dee, the PA plays “Stand By Your Man.”
It is real.
(Playing earlier, the much buzzed about Widowspeak started off their set a little too jangly and the mix wasn’t quite right. Surely, they are bathed in potential. Then it happened, they simplified and went darker – more West Coast at dawn than East Coast afternoon, and you couldn’t look away. The influences are pretty obvious, but who cares when you dip into the good shit and try to make it your own. If they can resist the urge to rock up their songs on stage (which they can’t just yet) they could be a vital live act. Surely an amazing record is just around the corner.)