NXNE Friday: Writer, Dirty Beaches & Dum Dum Girls

Friday night is usually a bit of a wash for me in terms of festivals. It’s my hump day and usually I’m at my lowest in terms of energy, so I decided that I would forgo the usual venue hopping and go to Lee’s Palace and plan my night around their pretty excellent line up.

Writer @ Lee’s Palace

My first thought about this band was around the name, and if  bands ever considered things like google alerts and online searching before christening themselves with something utterly generic. For example, while looking them up after the show you might come across something like this. Luckily, the name is the only generic thing about this band. A duo from San Diego, brothers Andy and James Ralph bring a gritty indie rock sound that manages to stand out by night three of NXNE. There’s an awkward intensity to their stage presence, they barely speak and seem unfamiliar with playing a larger venue, but the growing crowd is engaged throughout their entire set. I would definitely make an effort to check these guys out again.

Dirty Beaches @ Lee’s Palace

I spent most of this set in a state of bewilderment, because of the music itself and how much the crowd was into it. Performing under the moniker Dirty Beaches, Alex Zhang Hungtai uses an electric guitar, an effect laden condenser mic, pedals and looped beats to create a sound experience that has been likened to a David Lynch movie. If you haven’t seen Dirty Beaches live then this reference will probably seem hyperbolic in the extreme, but those who saw him at Lee’s Palace or the Silver Dollar last week can attest to the dynamic and dark atmospheres that Hungtai creates almost effortlessly. With music that is almost inscrutable and a live performance that makes you feel that Hungtai is in pain – he rarely makes eye contact or speaks between songs – he had no trouble holding the attention of the audience. Though at the time I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying Dirty Beaches, I was definitely impressed by his ability to keep the crowd on edge. Each track was imbued with a different element and theme running from cheesy calypso to thundering revival and finishing with a gritty Tom Waitts growl. Looking back, I can’t imagine how I wasn’t into this.

Dum Dum Girls

Although I’ve been aware of their music, before last week I’d never really listened to Dum Dum Girls beyond a few tracks on myspace. Despite this, I had a deep suspicion that I would really enjoy their music based on those tracks and  my love for another 60s influenced girl band from California, The Like. Maybe it was the same bad mood that led me astray with Dirty Beaches, but I didn’t find myself engaging with the music as much as I’d expected. While the music was good, maybe even great, it didn’t set itself apart from the rest of the retro-pop genre for me and by the end of the set I was a little bored.

At this point Lee’s was pretty full and to really top the whole “ruining my own night” shtick I decided to bail before Cults started their set. Probably not the right call, but it did mean that I got to enjoy some delicious tacos in good company at Kensington Market, so I won’t kick myself too much. 

Meghan Swinkels

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One response to “NXNE Friday: Writer, Dirty Beaches & Dum Dum Girls

  1. Pingback: Interview (Audio) with Dirty Beaches [NXNE 2011] | PhotogMusic

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