The fact that Dum Dum Girls are playing the Roadhouse in Manchester is simultaneously absolutely perfect and completely wrong. Perfect, because their garagey sound – thunderous drums, squalling guitars and gorgeous harmonies – really suits this gloomy, intimate setting. Wrong, because it suggests that they’re not yet universally beloved enough to be playing the enormodomes, and that’s just plain baffling.
The story goes that, back in the heyday of New York punk hotspot CBGB, Patti Smith used to turn up in the audience of Blondie gigs just to glower menacingly at Debbie Harry. If, in an alternate universe, Patti tried another tack and nabbed the band, they might have sounded something like this. Dum Dum Girls turn out catchy girl-group pop-rock with a genuine, aching emotional undertow. Their first two albums were full of tinny spirit and promise as they gradually honed their songwriting and buffed up their sound. Their third album, Too True, released back in January, might just be the best thing you’ll hear all year. Pretty much every song is a belter. For a lesser band, this could be their Greatest Hits.
Tonight they perform against a backdrop of a blue neon outline of a heart. That feels entirely appropriate. Most of their songs spin spiked beauty out of heartache, or make the darker side of love sound alluring. On stage, lead singer/songwriter Dee Dee Penny’s daring dress sense turns heads, which can’t hurt, but it’s her voice that really draws you in. The whole band are in black and adopt a glacial uncommunicative persona: think Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video remade by David Lynch. Drummer Sandra Vu, for instance, combines a propulsive technique and a killer fuck-off vibe. They currently boast a third guitarist, David, though the mind boggles about what life must be like as the sole Dum Dum Bloke.
To be honest the fine sheen and detail that’s crept into their recorded output lately doesn’t really come across in this low-fi setting, particularly when the live sound tonight is so muddy. Thankfully though, there’s no disguising the quality of the material. From opener Mine Tonight, to He Gets Me High, Under These Hands, Rimbaud Eyes, even a completely naturalized cover of The Pale Saints’ Sight of You – each one’s a little gem and not one outstays its welcome, which is a rare and underrated quality in songcraft these days.
Too True is certainly well represented but the set draws liberally from right across their discography. For the encore, they deploy the big hitters: sashaying call-to-arms Lost Boys and Girls Club and slow-burning emotional H-bomb Coming Down. It makes for a pretty dark but very satisfying kiss-off.
It’s kind of nice that the Dum Dum Girls still feel like a well-kept secret. They already have the indie cognoscenti on their side. But if only the real heartland of the pop audience – teenage girls, say – latched on to them, they could be launched towards mega-stardom after all. And it might not entirely suit them, but it is basically what they deserve. ‘Awesome’ is a very over-used word these days, isn’t it? Still, let’s apply it here.
Main image: James Orlando
What: Dum Dum Girls
Where: The Roadhouse, Manchester
When: May 3, 2014 and touring
More info: http://wearedumdumgirls.com/