With regard to music, time isn’t really a flat circle. Think of it more in terms of waves crashing on shore. Trends wash in and out, defined by how they differ from the last time a particular sound was popular.
Dum Dum Girls are an embodiment of this idea. Their wavy dream pop, at times acidic, sounds less like a throwback and more like frontwoman Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristin Welchez) reached back into the ‘80s and yanked them into 2014.
Take the second half of their set Monday night at the Waiting Room as an example. After soaring through their January 2014 album Too True, they unleashed a cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers.” Dee Dee cooed tenderly, but instead of the agoraphobic rainy day original, its reiteration was spacey, awash in cymbals and flanged guitar. Guitarist Jules Medeiros might have run her amp through an ice crystal castle.
That glitzy sheen sustained through the night was occasionally peeled back by Dum Dum Girls and the bands before them. Kansas City’s Yes You Are rocked back and forth between synth-covered disco glam and pounding classic rock, with searing echoey guitar solos and bass so deep it might have reset a heartbeat. For Brooklyn-based Ex Cops, stripping down their sound was unavoidable. Frontwoman Amalie Bruun’s keyboard failed before the start of their show, leaving the three-piece with Brian Harding’s jangly Fender Jaguar, drums and Bruun’s strong vocals. It was a shame, as you could almost hear the missing keys over their poppy beach rock.
From beginning to end, Dum Dum Girls let its aesthetic do the talking. Dee Dee was last to take the stage, her sparkly dress popping against the black garb of her bandmates. Tension built as a synth chord sustained. The projector behind them ran colors and patterns that shifted like a burning film reel.
While the recorded new album is slick, live versions were beefed up and surfy. As they played through Too True, you could tick off the ‘80s influences, each cloaked in darkness. “Cult of Love” began as though the California sun was blotted out, Dee Dee’s eerie vocals cutting through like a chant. “Rimbaud Eyes” (the title invoking the surrealist poet) played like a fuzzed-out Smiths song that spun you around as though on the verge of blacking out. Drummer Sandra Vu rumbled through “Too True to Be Good” like David Lovering of the Pixies on “Wave of Mutilation.”
For the most part, Dee Dee sang stoically, occasionally dancing in place. The rest of the band played moodily, cemented to their respective spots onstage. Finally, they bounced and swayed on the convertible ride of “Little Minx.” During the slow dance finale “Coming Down,” Dee Dee emotionally belted: “You abuse the ones that love you/you abuse the ones who won’t.”
That Welchez takes cues from bands like Suede or The Stone Roses might suggest that she’s writing music for a different decade. Even when it’s dark, it’s gleaming with pop finish. But their performance didn’t feel like a nostalgia show. Glittering guitars and swirling keys run through turbulent haze of effects and noise. Where Dum Dum Girls might have easily carbon-copied its influences, it’s recreating sounds for the present.
See More Photos by Randy Edwards
Dum Dum Girls
Yes You Are