Dressy Bessy’s new studio album doesn’t come out until the end of August but it’s already a hit—at least with the crowd at the foursome’s Chicago tour stop, who got a preview of the upcoming self-titled effort during a nearly nonstop performance Saturday night. The music was so irresistibly jubilant that a waitress stopped taking drink orders long enough to dance with a friend during “Just Once More”—and rarely does a new, largely unheard song inspire such a reaction. The 22-song set also included plenty of highlights from the Denver-based band’s recorded output so far, including the recent rarities collection Little Music. While Dressy Bessy has plenty of songs that are as sweet as its retro-dolly name, the song selection for its live show emphasized the group’s ability to rock, hitting on retro-flavored garage ravers like “Live to Tell All” and “Extra-Ordinary”, and only slowing down a few times for sweeter melodies like “Big To Do” and “Flower Jargon”.
Leader and primary songwriter Tammy Ealom claims that the upcoming album better captures the band’s rawer live sound, and judging from this show, that assessment seems on target. On its previous recordings, Dressy Bessy’s sound was dominated by guitar fuzz, but on the new album and in the live setting Ealom and John Hill (also of Apples in Stereo) play cleaner and more simply, allowing the power of the rhythm section of Rob Greene (bass) and Darren Albert (drums) to come through. Hill, a tall, thin guy who hopped around wearing a jovial smile throughout the set, provided a few harmonies for Ealom, but for the most part she was left to sing on her own, and the songs therefore lacked the punch of the girl-group harmonies they have on record. Still, they sounded great, with Ealom now singing in a more natural, less girlish range. The band also skipped a few of the guitar solos that appear on the recorded versions of its songs, such as on the new “Blink Twice”, but it wasn’t clear whether that was because Hill lacked the equipment needed for reproducing those sounds live or whether it was just part of the economical approach of the show.
Appropriately enough, given the band’s cute ‘60s-inspired sound, Ealom performed wearing a mini dress and go-go boots and carrying a guitar with decals on it, while the boys in the band were the model of sloppy casualness in slacks and button-down shirts. Despite the fact that Ealom is the only member of Dressy Bessy with a “look”, it was bassist Greene, with his shaggy, crazed curls, who elicited a comment on his appearance, when someone in the audience cried out in disbelief, “Rob…your hair!” Otherwise, the show was thankfully short on banter from the performers or the audience, and the band bounded joyfully from one number to the next without pause and without the dreaded phoniness of an encore. Dressy Bessy’s set was a model of friendly economy and simplicity, much like the refrigerator magnets for sale at its merchandise table, which Ealom made by decoupaging Little Music artwork onto wood blocks she cut herself. It’s the personal touch that makes it so sweet.