Dum Dum Girls
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In this short and crazy life, you only get a couple of avenues into being truly cool. The fortunate are imbued from birth, seemingly anointed with an effortless magnetism, leaving an expansive wake of influence on whatever they touch. Onstage, Dum Dum Girls' front woman Dee Dee makes a convincing show of that sort of cool. To say so would do a disservice to the depth of craft on display when she performs. The cool of her blackened girl-group idiom comes from a tight, professional execution and a carefully preserved aesthetic. At the Triple Rock last night, that work made for riveting results.
While Dee Dee's riveting presence made for plenty of fireworks, one would do well to adjust their expectations away from grand, bombastic gestures when enjoying this band. Dum Dum Girls aren't cool in the same manner as the Pretenders, although Dee Dee's resemblance to Chrisse Hynde is sometimes uncanny. Their brand of cool is more akin to a French New Wave film, all aloof and distant, with a tightly restrained dynamism doled out sparingly for maximum effect. Dee Dee is the embodiment of this approach, captivating attention with the expressiveness of her face and intensity of her gaze rather than body histrionics. Movements that begin gracefully end in a snap or a snarl, smooth until the point of impact like a martial artist's blow.
Her singular voice, though a bit weary by this point in the tour, does much of the heavy lifting for her. It's a rich and dark instrument that can suffuse even her most buoyant melodies with melancholy. Opening with three of their strongest compositions, one from each of their three albums, the Dum Dum Girls made an excellent showing of their songwriting right from the end of their walk-on music. "In the Wake of You" from their newest release Too True is an extremely welcome addition to their set, full of the tightly coiled energy of the band's best uptempo numbers, with an irrisisteble hook that would set the tone for the evening.
Back to back with the surfy early-period grooves of "I Will Be," the band showed just much they've grown since that album was released in 2010. Where the recording sounds faintly robotic, modern Dum Dum re-fit the song with a chugging guitar and drum groove reminiscent of the Cramps' gothic rockabilly.
While Dee Dee tends toward the solitary as a songwriter, she's a bit more inclusive of a bandleader, allowing guitarists Jules and new Dum Dum dude Andrew to take the entirety of the leads, focusing most of her energy on the vocals. Similarly unselfish with singing duties, Dee Dee was nearly always doubled by strong harmonies from Jules or bassist Malia, and even drummer Sandy, who displayed the most physicality of any member. Like an impeccably styled DJ Bonebreak, the Dum Dum's drummer anchored her band through the occasional lapse in chemistry, filling a wide swath of space with her pocket-technique, informed by punk sensibility.
"I Got Nothing" from the group's gauzy, 2012 EP End of Daze gave Dee Dee her first chance for something like a vocal solo during the song's bridge section, and the singer's ability ramp quickly from that soulful intimacy to the song's steely chorus was a technique she'd employ to great effect throughout the evening. Other ballads, like the group's cover of the Pale Saint's "Sight of You" and their dramatic closer "Coming Down" showed the singer's talents as a torch-song belter, although the melodramatics were blessedly restrained, as always. "Under These Hands" evoked the thin, compressed guitars and angular basslines of the 1980s while handily skirting nostalgia, even when Dee Dee pulled out a tambourine for a quick, go-go routine during an interlude.[page]
If Dum Dum Girls have a weakness, it's that their MO of detached cool can also be used as a crutch for the occasional lapse in showmanship. Dee Dee is by no means the world's most extroverted front woman, and the members could be seen to slip into their own private worlds during some of the more mid-tempo numbers. That's why rockers like "Rimbuad Eyes" and the "Sweet Jane"-esque "Lord Knows" made for such refrieshing moments of catharsis.
Watching the band step back from their microphones and snap into a particularly dynamic riff made for the night's best moments. During the outro for the latter, which closed the set proper, Dee Dee and Jules indulged, ever so briefly, in a bit of back-to-back guitar posturing that broke a bit of the veil of cool they swathe themselves in.
Those little moments of genuine passion were peppered all over the Dum Dum's excellent set, if you knew where to look for them. A welcome reminder that, in spite of all their well-honed aesthetic, Dee Dee and company are red-blooded rock'n'roll performers at heart.
Personal Bias: A fan since their first EP, I really connected with Too True, especially after getting the chance to interview Dee Dee about it earlier this year.
Random Notebook Dump: While they didn't do much of anything to draw attention to Dum Dum boy Andrew, he seemed remarkably game, handling his guitar parts without ego and even copping to the band's uniform by wearing a black dress over his jeans.
The Opener: If you liked The Velvets best when they were featuring Nico, and make regular appearances at Jake Rudh's Transmission, you'll really dig Blouse. Featuring a nice mix of shoegaze, dream-pop and a bit of Portishead-esque trip-hop, the group was a great pairing for Dum Dum Girls, even if they often lacked the headliner's stagecraft.
In the Wake of You
I Will Be
He Gets Me High
I Got Nothing
Too True to Be Good
Are You Okay?
Best of Our Lives
It Only Takes
Under These Hands
Sight of You [Pale Saints]
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