by David Chiu

On Saturday night, New York’s Webster Hall hosted two California bands: sunny-sounding Girls from San Francisco and punky Dum Dum Girls from Los Angeles. Both indie groups evoked the catchy pop melodies of the ‘60s and then some, but their execution of those sounds was different.

Decked out all in black—including miniskirts and fishnet stockings—the female quartet of Dum Dum Girls were all business during their opening set. The sound from their performance—made clear on their recently-released Sub Pop full-length album I Will Be–drew from such acts as ‘60s girl groups, the Velvet Underground, the Go-Go’s and Joan Jett. But while the songs were very catchy and energetic, the tone and the lyrics convey something moodier and darker, echoed by lead singer Dee Dee’s dreamy yet cool vocals. Highlights from the set, which was basically tracks from I Will Be and the Yours Alone EP, included the poppy “Hey Sis,” “Jail La La,” “Catholicked” (which borrows the “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” line from Patti Smith’s “Gloria”), and the ballad “Rest of Our Lives.”

In contrast, all-male headliner Girls, fronted by singer/guitarist Christopher Owens and bassist J.R. White, were slightly brighter in terms of mood as well as aesthetically: the stage was littered with scores of flowers; they were everywhere from the speakers to the drum kit. Girls owes their very summery California sound to acts such as the Beach Boys (with also Brit pop and lounge-y elements), but like Dum Dum Girls, their melodies mask some angst in the lyrics. Beginning their set with the Phil Spector-ish “Ghost Mouth,” the band played tunes from their recent record Album–among them the poppy “Laura,” the greaser rock of “Big Bad Motherfucker,” “Lust for Life,” and the ballad “Lauren Marie.” Owens, who has a habit for lifting his left leg, evoked the anguish and yearning of the song lyrics through his soulful singing and also displayed some excellent guitar playing; co-founder White delivered outstanding melodic bass lines.

Clearly both Girls and Dum Dum Girls’ shows from Saturday night were a homage to pop music’s past. However, they also confirmed that they were in the present with their own distinct approach.

Dum Dum Girls: Jail La La

Girls: Hellhole Ratrace