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Live review: With pop this solid, there's no need for filler

Girls/Dum Dum Girls
Recher Theatre
March 30, 2010

Combining San Francisco’s lovesick Girls and Los Angeles’ stoic Dum Dum Girls might not result in the most explosive live show, but with these songs, it matters less. Tuesday night’s show at Towson’s Recher Theatre was the tour’s opening night, and the bands played their tightly constructed pop songs faithfully, with little banter or pomp. It worked for the bands, both supporting well-received debut full-lengths, as pretension doesn’t mix with songs this splendid and straightforward.

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Led by lead singer and guitarist Dee Dee (government name: Kristin Gundred, but don't call her that), the all-female Dum Dum Girls moved very little on stage, but had the small crowd bopping along to their short bursts of fuzzed-out girl-punk. The set began with a highlight — a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" (check out the Pitchfork.tv video above to see them do it at this year's South by Southwest). Cuts from the group's new album, I Will Be (released the same night as the concert), came at a furious clip. "Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout" and "Jail La La" sounded like carbon copies of the record, which is a compliment, not a complaint. These songs work best when sticking to the thoughtful script. The band's most rewarding charms become even more obvious live: three-part, on-point harmonies and Dee Dee's sweet and gritty vocals dominate the songs. Dee Dee, notoriously shy, didn't speak to the crowd until the set came to a close, saying the band was very excited to be on tour with Girls. Believable or not, the band used their set time wisely; justifying the recent hype by reaffirming the proof was in the songs all along.

Girls had the Internet (and consequently many major music magazines) going nuts last year, thanks to Album, a record that hit like the drugs the band has been known to take: a bursting experiment of haze-inducing highs and lonely, hungover lows. Album's songs try on different genres (rockabilly, vulnerable balladry, Beach Boys-inspired harmonious pop), but lead singer Christopher Owens keeps the whole thing afloat with his Elvis Costello-like croon. It was obvious from the first chord of opener "Laura" that Girls would have no trouble translating the songs live. Just like Dum Dum Girls, the band benefited from capable backup singers, making the harmonies feel like powerful accents when locked in.

There was an impatient blonde girl, drink in hand, crying out, "play 'Lust For Life'," between songs. Her obnoxious request spoke to a desire many of us were thinking: Play Album's opener, the song that (in less than two and a half minutes) can erase any ill feelings and conjure up beach daydreams without fail. And while it was great when "Lust" finally hit toward the night's end, the show's true moment came before it. "Hellhole Ratrace," an achingly sad yet hopeful slow burner, was given a refreshing shot of testosterone, thanks to a drama-building rhythm section and Owens' more urgent-than-usual vocals. It was an inspiring performance that reminded the audience that the line "I want to do some dancing, too" wasn't just a rally cry. It was an order.

Wesley Case is a presentation architect for b. Follow him on Twitter, @wesleycase.

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