Wednesday night – I’m standing outside the Belly Up Tavern in wealthy Solana Beach, a coastal town with a thriving community, to the north of San Diego.
There are four of us – all girls, most of us wearing red lipstick and jean jackets – and we’re waiting to hear the Dum Dum girls, a group of four girls who also tend to wear red lipstick and black clothes with fishnets.
I don’t know much about the Dum Dum girls. I played a couple of songs on YouTube before the gig tonight, and I heard a selection of songs in the car on the way to the venue. What I do know is that they’re all attractive and have similar-looking haircuts with a heavy fringe. I am here mostly because I am desperate for a night out, particularly one that takes me outside my 5 -mile comfort zone around my mother’s house.
Because I woke up this morning feeling like a 60-year-old who ran a marathon in her sleep (bad night), I am actually hoping this Big Night Out doesn’t drag on past 11ish. But this hope is dashed when we’re told by the person at the ticket booth that the headliners we are here to see won’t be on until about 11pm. I gather this is not unusual for the Belly Up. I’m wondering how I will make it to 11 without collapsing into a heap on the floor with red lipstick smeared down my chin. With beer, of course.
An hour and a half later, my friends and I are standing at the front of the stage. We don’t have to fight our way there – the venue feels half empty and I’m reassured that there are some people who definitely look older than I do. I’ve got to the point in my life where I feel like I’ve got a sign on my forehead telling people that I’m nearly 40 and should be at home sipping a glass of red wine and watching Dancing with the Stars with my mother.
The main act
Before the band comes on, I’m kind of afraid the main act might be hijacked by a couple near the front – they are engaging in the most astonishing PDA (public displays of affection) I have ever seen. I try to stand as far away as possible; the last thing I want to do is inadvertently brush up against them. I’m silently wishing someone will tell them to leave, but it doesn’t happen. So for the remainder of the show I know that they are there, to my right, looking a bit like they are taking part in some sort of tribal dance ritual that includes writhing and hip gyrations.
Just as I think I’m getting queasy, Dee Dee (the lead singer) takes to the stage and distracts me. Her once-dark hair is now platinum blond and she looks tiny and frail but with a strong, clear voice.
I’ve never stood so close to a band before and it lends them some vulnerability. I can see the messy tangle of wires on the floor, the drinks at their feet – bottles of water and what appears to be whiskey – and a small tear in Dee Dee’s black tights.
I’m not sure how to categorize the band. They are a bit melodic, occasionally punky, and remind me of a rockier Mazzy Star. I recognize one of their latest hits, Bedroom Eyes, written during the fog of jet lag.
After reading a bio on the band, I learn that Dee Dee writes all, or most, of the songs. She is a talented singer-songwriter who takes her inspiration from very personal and painful memories. Most of the songs on her previous EP, He Gets Me High, were about the tragic death of her mother from cancer. She also unsparingly talks about her separation from her husband, also a singer, because of the constant touring.
The show ends with Coming Down, an epic ballad from the latest album (Only in Dreams) that deals with the grief of death. It’s strange to watch this small girl belt out these incredibly personal lyrics, but it gives the Dum Dum girls some emotional credibility. I feel a bit like a voyeur, though. I wish I knew their songs a bit better and didn’t feel like I was faking it.
For those in the UK, Dee Dee (minus the band) will perform at Hotel Street on Charing Cross Road on June 8. You can watch her for a ridiculous 3 pounds.