On this particular late-summer Tuesday night, the field felt abuzz. Regardless of where you place the needle in our current timeline—still in a pandemic, almost post-pandemic, post-pandemic—touring musicians are back to touring, but in a landscape that’s been tough to navigate: untenable gas prices, clubs barely populated, Covid-cancellations, vinyl supply chain woes, and a general lack of enthusiasm to rebuild what was lost. Perhaps it’s better to start from a scorched earth and treat the attendant uncanny road as a new adventure, finding new ways to bring live music to the masses, but in that, finding a new way to get the masses engaged, connected, to remind them what power and joy can come in performance.
Criss-crossing the country from Los Angeles, the California quintet Dummy has already suffered several defeats on that road. A busted van, canceled shows, all within the perfect opportunity for the band to vault that intangible threshold of “success.” Make no mistake, Dummy’s sonic trajectory is headed straight for the center of a white-hot sun. The group is crammed full of incendiary pop hooks, yet they straddle a line that, on the other side, is an unhinged psychedelic feast of improvisation. Playing several tracks from their mid-pandemic gem, 2021’s Mandatory Enjoyment, they were locked into the well-rehearsed grooves many have yet to behold while pushing that boundary with new songs that are even more adept at that tightrope walk. While Dummy has said in interviews that their foundational influences skew towards the new age explorations of Laraaji and Silver Apples, in the live setting the chaos-addled guitars get ample billing. As such, Dummy’s all-in approach—with dual vocals intermingling, motorik drums, synths swirling, and those guitars on overdrive—transcends homage. Trying to pinpoint just one sound is futile. Yet Th’ Faith Healers mercurial jangle-psych came to mind. The Swirlies, the Velvets, early analog-heavy Stereolab sides, and for regional heads, the scent of the long-lost Fuzzhead was heavy, as the band can easily shift between miasmas of noise and pop adroitness. Anyone lucky enough to catch this tour will see a band absolutely poised if you listen intently and put any distractions out of mind for a solid 45 minutes.
Chicago trio Horsegirl (pictured top), was undoubtedly what caused Tuesday’s buzz. Rumba’s intimate room was packed, hot, and sweaty in anticipation, and any night Matador’s latest signing has to match the intensity of Dummy is sure to be a task. That said, Horsegirl is entering that brave new world of touring for the first time, so any expectations of what this must have been like in the before-times, for these young musicians, were moot. So far, Horsegirl’s output is a small sample size, this year’s excellent Versions of Modern Performance, and you can tell that within that arena, Horsegirl is confident, poised, and playfully knocking around those arrangements. It would be cheap to simply imply that Horsegirl was born into households with impeccable record collections. To wit, they are a generation with impeccable record collections at their fingertips. Their melange of influence is wide—they closed with a rousing rendition of Guided by Voices’ “As We Go Up We Go Down”—but also compact sonically. The dark brooding post-punk of “Anti-Glory,” the slack-jawed pop of “Dirtbag Transformation (Still Dirty),” and the shuffling, distortion of “Billy,” all recall the height of ‘90s indie-rock, yet Horsegirl adds its own indifferent, millennial, calculation as to how that sounds in 2022. It’s not a reheat, more a reimagining, and in their economic set, it shouldn’t be difficult for them to attract listeners, old and young, to their particularly cathartic vintage.