Sugar Sugar Kandy Pop
8 Mar 2002: Café du Nord San Francisco
When Dressy Bessy recently toured Europe, a trusted friend of mine saw all three gigs they played in London. I know Dressy Bessy’s music. They play cute sugary sweet pop treats that are just as likely to melt your heart as melt in your hand. Candy is good, candy is fun. But too much is sickly sweet and eventually nauseating. I’ve had to be careful not to ruin their fantastic debut album Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons by not playing it once too often and creating a cavity in my record collection. But if my friend could stomach them three times and still get high from that fuzzy pop buzz, I decided I really needed to investigate further.
On record, Dressy Bessy are reminiscent of the sorely missed Velocity Girl, all bouncy female lead vocals and delightful pop harmonies. Think Phil Spector girl groups but without the wall of sound production. Behind their songs’ sugary coating, is a warm fuzzy guitar sound, similar to Apples In Stereo. It is therefore no surprise to learn that Apples’ guitarist John Hill moonlights in the band. Dressy Bessy are in fact yet another band loosely connected to the Elephant 6 collective. For those in the know, this signifies a hallmark of 1960s psych-pop influenced indie goodness.
Live, the Denver-based quartet present themselves as a slightly different proposition, although no less appealing for it. Rather than rehash their recorded pop perfection, the band instead presents a harder edge, which ultimately adds an extra depth to the music. Gone are the girly harmonies spilling over every song making fey indie boys weak at the knees. Instead, vocalist/guitarist Tammy Ealom takes the lion’s share of vocals throughout the night without backup. For good measure, the few songs they did play from the debut album see drummer Darren Albert take on backing vocals, and these songs were met with appreciative cheers from the audience, keen to hear some of those catchy vocal melodies.
And its not that the band’s pure pop manifesto is missing from the stage, just that it manifests itself differently, in almost unexpected ways. Ealom and Hill provide a nice crunchy guitar sound. Big bubbling bass lines are more dominant than on record, making the band sound edgier, heavier even. This tasty mix of crunch and bounce combines to get the audience bopping along and pretty soon Hill’s trademark grin beams forth, a smile so infectious that it’s impossible for anyone present not to be won over by the band.
Dressy Bessy never quite manage to outstay their welcome because just when you think you have the band down, they do something quite unexpected. Whether it is an unexpected chord change or a subtly unpredictably lyrical couplet, the band are good enough to always keep the audience on its toes.
A good example is the show’s opener number, “That’s Why” from their recent second album, Sound Go Round. Tonight, coming from Dressy Bessy, it sounds almost anti-pop, far more angular than I thought them capable. The second song, “Hangout Wonderful” sees them kick off a great ‘60s drum beat and veer back towards more familiar territory. The mix between attitude and affection in the bands music makes them so compelling, keeping them from being merely another shiny happy pop band.
The band are definitely more versatile musicians than their records suggest, exhibiting on stage a wider scope than I would have given them credit for based purely on the records. A pop perfection yes, but still a very singular sound. On record, they’re the perfect candy, an instant sugar high. Live, the band are more lemon drop than sugar sweet. A steady acerbic fizz instead of instant gratification, and no less compelling because of it. Dressy Bessy surprisingly show themselves to be a slow burn, and a deeply satisfying one at that.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article