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What a difference a year makes: Dum Dum Girls in concert

A little less than a year after playing at DC9, Sub Pop all-stars Dum Dum Girls took the stage at the Black Cat. While the only new material the band released between then and now is the stellar He Gets Me High EP, 2011’s performance was head-and-shoulders above 2011’s.

(Photos courtesy Matt Dunn; from 2010 and 2011, respectively)

Fear not: the band’s trademark “blissed-out buzzsaw” is still firmly in place. Dum Dum Girls still look and sound like a time-shifted 60s girl group. But a year of performing as a unit has streamlined their set, tightened their harmonies, and enriched the band’s performance.

Last year’s show was so stoic and reserved that the band seemed uninterested in performing. There is definitely a greater sense of urgency this time around, even as the four piece maintains an air of (ironic?) detachment.

The development of the live show mirrors that of the band, from its impetus as Kristin “Dee Dee” Gundred’s bedroom project to full-fledged touring outfit. Along with their Ramonesque monikers and stylized stagedress, the bandmates share “Dum Dum” tattoos on their fingers; they’ve clearly bought-in to the Dum Dum Girls concept.

On Sunday night, the band hit the touchstones of their early records (“Catholicked,” “Hey Sis”), standouts from I Will Be (“Jail La La,” “Everybody’s Out”), and their newest material, which samples from their entire palette. Off the EP, the rollicking surf-drums of “Wrong Feels Right” places it somewhere between “He Gets Me High” and “Take Care of My Baby.” The former is the musical sequel to “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout,” and the latter is a lovelorn ballad that resembles the slow dance of “Rest of Our Lives.”

The highlight, judging by the crowd reaction, is their version of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” a spot-on update of the Smith’s classic that surpasses their muted covers of the Stones’ “Play With Fire” and Sonny and Cher’s “Baby Don’t Go.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/dum_dum_girls_light.mp3″ text=”Dum Dum Girls – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” dl=0]

With a music scene that constantly spits out one-and-done performers, we often forget the treat of watching a band develop over albums, concerts and years. The nostalgia of the Dum Dum Girls isn’t just focused on the music of the past, but on that timeless experience of seeing a band grow and making them your own.

The Verge – Girls, Girls, Girls

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. After a look at the beginnings of another British Invasion, it’s time to return stateside for some female-fronted indie rock.

Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, the Dum Dum Girls signed to indie stalwart Sub Pop last year on the strength of a couple lo-fi EPs and literally one live performance. What started as a solo project by Kristin Gundred (aka Dee Dee) grew into an all-girl rock band that harks back to 60s girl groups, both in sound and style. Gundred had previously found success as a singer/drummer with garage rockers Grand Ole Party.

The Dum Dum Girls play jangly, fuzzed-out indie pop that makes audiences want to do The Monkey and The Swim. Their wall-of-sound is as much Phil Spector as it is Black Tambourine, the short-lived yet influential DC band that played in similar sonic territory in the early 90s. The lead single off of their debut LP I Will Be, “Jail La La,” is a sing-a-long headbopper which tells the grim tale of waking up in the county jail.

Visually, the band is all-black and throwback, swaying like dashboard hula dancers. The retro feel is completed with Danelectro and Rickenbacker gear that firmly plants the Dum Dum Girls in a distant time and place. It is a bit gimmicky, but it flows naturally from their name and completes the live experience, as it did at a recent DC9 gig, opening for Male Bonding.

(photo courtesy Matt Dunn)

Screaming Females may share a nominal theme with the Dum Dum Girls, but that’s where the similarities end. The Screaming Females play pure rock: aggressive, guitar-driven, ear-bleeding rock music. Here, the screaming female is actually singular: Marissa Paternoster, on lead vocals and guitars, screeches and shreds with reckless abandon. The band muscles their way through hard rock history, from the Sabbath-inspired sludge of “Skull” to the proto-punk of “I Believe in Evil.” “Buried in the Nude” gives you a taste of the cacophonous attack that the Females unleash, along with the band’s psychedelic sensibility.

Coming out of the New Brunswick, New Jersey basement scene, the band is a DIY tribute to rock bands past. With a full, heavy sound that overwhelmed the 9:30 Club when opening for Ted Leo last week, I can only imagine the damage the band did to young punks and metalheads in basements across the Garden State.

Next time the Dum Dum Girls and the Screaming Females come to town, they’ll be headlining. It may not be a movement a la riot grrrl, but the music they make certainly rocks. And once you get past gender issues and expectations, isn’t that what really matters?