Dum Dum Girls (All Photos by Daniel Ahrendt)
Just when everyone in Seattle starts to snatch their jackets out of their closets, we get invaded by a great big dose of California. As far as the crowd at Neumos was concerned, Dum Dum Girls have free license to invade us whenever they want. Lead singer Dee Dee Penny (real name Kristen Gundred) originally formed Dum Dum Girls as her solo project in 2008 while she still played drums and sang for Grand Ole Party. With her first few fuzzed-out, sun-bleached pop tunes, she quickly gained many fans and a record contract with Sub Pop. Three more members, two EPs, and two albums later, they’re running around the world to the guilty pop delight of all.
Kristen Gundred aka Dee Dee Penny
In 2010, the band released their debut LP I Will Be and the reaction was terrific. The songs engaged 50s surf and rock traditions, elements of the American songbook, and the burnt-out drag of punk. All this was wrapped up in light, foggy production and reverb, a formula that has officially worked well for many contemporary musical groups. However, the nostalgia endemic to Dum Dum Girls carries stronger than most, supported by true harmonic intelligence and a classic American approach to song writing. Released just last month, their sophomore LP Only In Dreams delivers a solid helping of the same, but with a massive leap in recording quality. Now that everything is far more in focus, a good degree of past fixation seems to evaporate and leaves way for refined harmony lines and Gundred’s stabbing and soulful voice. Here’s hoping for a jazz album next.
“Hold Your Hand”
This show was smaller than most Neumos engagements. The upstairs balcony was blocked off, an occurrence I had never witnessed. Yet Dum Dum Girls sounded as big as ever. They played an equal mix of early material and tunes from the new album. Love songs with soaring lines were the norm, delivered by a delightfully stonewalling Gundred. Her blank gaze and stance make her occasional snarls and swagger all the better. While each tune was effectively performed, I couldn’t help but hear more gravity from the newer material. It may have been an increased awareness of how to write melodies found in tunes such as “Hold Your Hand” and “Coming Down”, but even that probably developed simply from a year of trying experience.
While the band was touring last year, Gundred’s mother died from cancer. The appearance of the disease was sudden and shattering. No wonder these tunes hit hard. The band’s encore performance of “Coming Down” was the best example of a showstopper I’ve seen in a while. It was six and a half minutes of air saturating romantic despair, decorated painfully by Gundred’s howling high notes.
Each time I see The Crocodiles, they overwhelm the room and frontman Brandon Welchez‘s own reverb-saturated voice with an undying love for treble and fuzz. They too have a powerful grasp on punk and surf elements drawn from years of running about the Californian scene. Welchez (Gundred’s husband by the way) and guitarist Charles Rowell originally played together in the jazz-splattered, post-hardcore masterpiece known as The Plot to Blow Up The Eiffel Tower before moving to separate bands and back together. Their chemistry for punk creation is a marvelous one that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself live. Each member including the bassist, drummer, and keyboard player that now fill out their band are in their own groovy little world. Close your eyes and you might imagine the band close together on stage in some sort of perpetual get-down. Open them and you’ll find five people tripping separately, a stage presence that diminishes the band’s effectiveness live only slightly.
Gundred joined her husband and the rest of The Crocodiles for a few tunes.
Opener Colleen Green performed an even more stripped-down style of the fuzzed-out surf pop that prevailed all evening. Also from California (shocker), she utilized only her Mustang and a Yamaha drum machine for her set. The sunglasses on her face, the gum in her mouth, and her nonchalance at everything except how bright it was on stage were equally important. Whether she cared about being on stage at Neumos or not, her melodies caught the audience’s ears. Her attitude probably helped.