DUM DUM GIRLS live at The Space. Hamden CT. 2.9.12
In the hours leading up to Dum Dum Girls’ performance at The Space last night in Hamden, CT, I bummed around New Haven with one of my best friends, discussing American Football, drinking coffee, and eating french fries, completely unaware that, in just a short while, I would have my world completely rocked. We arrived at The Space about 15 minutes before the doors opened, standing around in the parking and making jokes about old Weezer songs as we shivered in the cold. When we were finally let in, it felt as if we had entered some sort of time portal back to the early 2000s. Franz Ferdinand songs blared over the PA and boys with tight pants and even tighter jackets shuffled in, sporting bowl-shaped Strokes haircuts and looking like they had just stepped out of that Justice video.
As it turned out, some of these dudes ended up being members of the opening bands. Punks on Mars took the stage first around 8, kicking the night off with their brazen punkish bravado and chugging guitar riffs. They derived their sound from somewhere between late 60s Michigan and late 70s London, not quite garage rock but not entirely power pop either, although their knack for melody and crisp, cutting guitar tones certainly suggests that they’ve heard a few Big Star records. Although they weren’t the best band that played last night, they were certainly the loudest. I might have sustained some hearing damage because of their set, but I’m not complaining.
Thankfully though, the followup act Widowspeak was decidedly more subdued. Singer Molly Hamilton tugged on my heartstrings with her wispy, reverb-laden vocals, while the lead guitarist’s custom Telecaster cut through the hazy atmosphere like a knife. It was impossible to understand any of Hamilton’s lyrics through the haze, but it was easy to get swept up in whatever she was singing about. Widowspeak’s music seemed to float in like a soft summer breeze, delighting the growing crowd with its presence but never overstaying its welcome. From the first few songs of their set, I was already sold; I had to introduce myself to Hamilton and buy a copy of their self-titled LP, which was released last year on Captured Tracks.
As the set changed over once more, I could feel the time slipping back further and further. Having coasted back through the 90s with Widowspeak’s Cat Power-reminiscent laid back songs, we arrived squarely in 1984 when one of the Dum Dum Girls’ roadies started playing The Replacements’ college rock classic Let It Be over the in-house speakers. Soon enough, the lights dimmed and the crowd quieted down as the Dum Dum Girls took the stage.
Dressed in provocative matching black outfits, the four Dum Dum Girls immediately brought the night full circle, jolting the crowd back into the mid-1970s with a look and attitude that evoked the likes of early female punk bands such as The Runaways. I was enraptured by their set before they even played a single note, just because of how badass and attractive they all looked. Collectively, they were easily the best looking band I’ve ever seen, but this wouldn’t have meant much if they didn’t have the music to back it up.
However, any doubts that I might have had about their playing ability were immediately dismissed once the band began their set. After a quick soundcheck, the girls launched into the flanged-out buzz and clank of the title track from their 2011 EP He Gets Me High. As a set opener, the song was perfect. It established in equal measure the band’s requisite qualities for the night: Fuzzy, loud, and brash, but tight as hell and extremely catchy. Throughout the rest of the show, Dum Dum Girls conveyed an unmitigatedly sexy punk energy, blending 1960s girl-group inspired harmonies with a raw twin-guitar attack. Frontwoman Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred was the star here, aggressively handling the mic with her red lipstick and steely-eyed stare, but the drummer was also extremely on point, playing with a reckless and energetic style that nevertheless kept the band consistently together for the whole show. The band also recently added a new touring bassist, who seemed to fit right in with the other three Dum Dums’ live aesthetic.
Although I passively enjoyed Dum Dum Girls’ studio recordings (they’ve released two official LPs and a handful of EPs in the past four years), I didn’t really consider myself a fan of the group until I saw them last night. Part of this can be attributed to the universal and inherent intimacy of live performance itself; in some ways, all music is “better” live. But the real reason that the Dum Dums won me over last night was not the simple fact that they were in front of me playing their songs, but the way in which they interpreted and expressed their own material in the live setting. Instead of relying heavily on material from last year’s Only In Dreams LP, the band based much of their setlist on older material, allowing fans a chance to see how much the Dum Dum Girls have evolved and grown as a band since the days when it was just Dee Dee and a drum machine. Hearing songs from the very first Dum Dum Girls EP such as “Catholicked” was a big treat, in addition to material from their lauded 2010 debut LP I Will Be. In the live setting, indie pop hits like “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout” and the prison anthem “Jail La La” sounded even more electric and engaging then they did when I first heard them on record. The girls also graced the crowd with two new songs last night, a stuttering punk track called “I Got Nothing” and a more low-key song called “Lavender Eyes.”
Thankfully, in between the new songs and the revamped older material, the band did manage to sneak some of the better moments of Only In Dreams into the set. Although we sadly didn’t get to hear the cathartic, slow-burning standout “Coming Down,” the band made up for it by including the faster and catchier “Heartbeat” and “Wasted Away.” By the time they pulled out the shimmering, earworm single “Bedroom Eyes” at the end of the set, the largely girl-dominated audience was all dancing and singing along. It was a powerful highlight in a great overall set.
The Dum Dum Girls gave me an understanding of their aesthetic last night that I did not have prior to the show. Now that I understand what they’re really about, I am not only still impressed and even blown away by the memory of their live show, but I’m also finding it easier and more enjoyable to listen to their studio work. That’s the mark of a truly great performance, and that’s exactly what last night’s show was.
Dum Dum Girls Setlist - 2.9.12
- 1. “He Gets Me High”
- 2. “Catholicked”
- 3. “I Will Be”
- 4. “Wasted Away”
- 5. “Rest Of Our Lives”
- 6. “Hold Your Hand”
- 7. “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout”
- 8. “Heartbeat”
- 9. “I Got Nothing”
- 10. “Jail La La”
- 11. “Lavender Haze”
- 12. “Bedroom Eyes”