Thursday, February 9, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Dum Dum Girls w/ Widowspeak

Last night, we AudioFemmes visited Music Hall of Williamsburg to see Dum Dum Girls perform a blistering set for a packed audience.  We missed openers Punks On Mars (not too intrigued by that band name, sorry) but caught most of Widowspeak’s set. Below, our innermost thoughts and feelings regarding the spectacle we witnessed. - Eds.

dressed all in white and practically glowing
L: Annie, what did you think of Widowspeak?

A: Well. Here’s the thing: I have a hard time getting on board with singers who sound painfully derivative of someone whom I happen to love, in this case, Mazzy Star. It doesn’t help that Hope Sandoval is still around and making music. In fact, I hear there’s a forthcoming album slated for release this summer. However, independent of the issue of Molly Hamilton’s striking similarities, both sonically and aesthetically, to Mazzy, I have to admit I’m a sucker for dreamy sounding girl-pop.


L:  Oooh, I had no idea Mazzy Star was putting out new material.  Yet another reason to look forward to summer.  But I digress - we were talking about Widowspeak, and I agree, it is hard not to hear Hope Sandoval when Molly Hamilton opens her mouth.  I’d actually seen them before at Glasslands when they opened for Dirty Beaches roughly a year ago.  They covered Chris Isaak.  I bought the Harsh Realm 7” (white vinyl!  I’m such a sucker for that kind of thing) and I think by now I’ve worn the grooves out.  I mean I’ve had nights where I put on that title track and just pull the needle back over when it’s done playing, and then repeat that about eighty times.  There’s something about the lines “I thought about how it was / I thought about you because / I always think about you” that just gets to me.  It’s definitely the kind of obsessive-minded song that makes playing the shit out of it feel totally appropriate...

... Seeing that live and knowing to expect it was a highlight for me, but I think that’s where the band excels - in the quieter, more contemplative moments.  I could have sworn they had far fewer members the last time I saw them, and so it was a bit off-putting to have three guys backing her up.  But I understand the need to amp up the performance as they are going out on tour with Dum Dum Girls.Speaking of which.....

A: Yeah, real quick: I would definitely give them another chance, and I often feel differently about a band’s sound in general when I hear the studio recording. You can lend me the 7” next time I come over. Anyway, moving on to the Dum Dum girls.

For me, a band’s first impression often sets the tone of the show, so to speak. And when the Dum Dum girls descended the stairs onto the stage of Music Hall of Williamsburg, decked out in white Grecian drapery and a myriad of fishnet-patterned stockings, I knew immediately, that we were in for a good time. Not to mention we were standing a stone’s throw from the hot new bass player, whose name thus far is unknown to us.

L: This bass player. Woah.  One of the most gorgeous women I think I’ve ever seen.  I was kind of disappointed when I heard their former bass player had been replaced; I thought she was a good representation of someone who isn’t super skinny and is totally sexy and kick ass, and I think it’s nice to see that, especially for people with similar body types.  Not that the new bass player was a twig; she did have some booty.  Whatever girl crushes I might have had on the band before were cemented when they emerged from backstage - every single one of them looked amazing.  I want to go shopping for tights and vintage jewelry with them.  Even if they had sucked, I would have been nearly content to watch them bop around on stage for 45 minutes.  But then they proceeded to totally melt faces.

A: Before I go on about how hard they rocked out, I must say, there’s something novel, in a heavy kind of way, about seeing a band comprised exclusively of women, play so competently and so beautifully. So many bands out there have one or two female members, who are often just eye-candy more than anything else; Or there are female-led groups who have the requisite enigmatic male bass player, or crazy drummer, etc. It’s really rare to see an all chick band like that who fully embrace their femininity and are completely unapologetic for their girliness, and who write songs about falling in and out of love that aren’t sappy and quaint sounding.

L: I agree. I wish it wasn’t such a novelty, but I don’t know if I’ve seen an all female band own a stage like that since Sleater-Kinney.  Maybe Warpaint. Honestly though, with all the bands trying to make it big in Brooklyn you don’t often see anyone, male OR female, playing their instruments as well as the Dums did.  I’d heard their shows were remarkable but I was floored by how good they sounded, how energetic they were, and how cohesively they jammed as a whole.  And I was also in love with their superfans who mouthed along with every word, including a middle-aged dude who was holding a library book the entire time!  I want to know what he was reading.

A: Hmmm. I’m gonna guess some sort of self-help book. Maybe something like, “How to change your life in 5 simple steps”

L: Step One - See the Dum Dum Girls. Life-changing for sure.
Step Two - Get an e-reader so you don't have to carry around heavy volumes to rock concerts.It looked pretty thick, though... I bet it was Game of Thrones or something like that.  He was adorably geeky.
A: Yeah, you’re probably right. That shit is insanely popular right now. I also liked that guy who was scribbling things down on his teeny tiny notepad like his life depended on it.

L: Maybe he was taking notes for his cool blog.

A: Not as cool as our blog.

L: Never!  Although it would be cooler if we could stay on topic.

A: Yeah, we really need to get it together here.

L: Admittedly, I’ve never quite understood the hype surrounding Dum Dum Girls.  Their albums are entertaining for a listen or two, but not usually ones I play over and over again.  That changed for me with the release of the first few singles from Only In Dreams.  Only In Dreams is, in part, a raw chronicle of the emotions lead singer Dee Dee experienced after the passing of her mother.  While their previous material was carefree and and even a bit frivolous, Only In Dreams has fathoms more depth, and that thoughtfulness and truth put it over the edge for me in terms of my admiration for the band.  I even went back to some of their old material, discovering “Take Care of My Baby” from the “He Gets Me High” single and falling absolutely in love with it.

A: Yeah, I never really got heavily into them. Aside from hearing their songs on random playlists here and there I never listened to much. And although I always liked what I did hear, seeing them live really changed my perception of what they are and what they do. Before I feel like my impression was that they’re kind of like a more pop-y iteration of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And while Dee Dee does sound an awful lot like Karen O. in many ways, the songs themselves are decidedly more straightforward--but in a refreshing way--especially to hear live.

L:  I don't know if I hear the Karen O. thing. In terms of performance and in-your-faceness, I'd say they are certainly of the same ilk. But the confessional nature of Dum Dum's newer tunes is not a place even Karen would dare go. The live rendition of “Hold Your Hand” was particularly moving.  Knowing where Dee Dee’s coming from when she sings the words “I wish it wasn’t true but there’s nothing I can do except hold your hand” makes them that much more powerful, but its a sentiment that hits deep with anyone who has lost someone close to them.  After playing those last chords Dee Dee kind of looked down at her guitar and swallowed hard and I remember being amazed that she had the courage to write the song in the first place, let alone play it before a huge crowd.  It was very poignant. 

A: I think I actually started crying a little bit during that song, because you could tell she was working so hard to keep it together. My heart really goes out to her, and I’m stunningly impressed with her fortitude and self-composure in the face of such recent adversity. Seeing her perform it was one of the many highlights. The most memorable highlight, however, for me, was the encore, for which they played “Coming Down”.  It’s a quieter song, and more sophisticated then some of the upbeat pop-rock stuff they do that seems to be their signature style. I guess I like to be surprised sometimes, even if it comes at the very end of a set. And the added effect of the disco ball lent it a dream-like ambiance that made the encore actually feel like a send-off--which is to me, what encores are all about. In any case, I would definitely go see them live again.

L: I loved “Coming Down” as well.  It was perfect as a set closer lyrically and melodically; like watching the last embers of a fire die before it goes out.  And I love me some disco ball - it burst to life at the perfect moment, just after the bridge when Dee Dee was really belting it out .  My only disappointment of the evening was the realization that I left the records I bought at the show in a booth at Lovin' Cup, where we stopped to grab a bite afterward. I called the place today but some jerk must have snapped them up. Can't say I blame him or her, I'd probably do the same thing.
Dum Dum Girls are touring the Northeast through most of February and then head to Europe in March.  These ladies are not to be missed. For additional proof of such, check out the video Annie shot of them performing "Rest of Our Lives" from their 2010 debut LP I Will Be.

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