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Don't Call Me Baby, Love 

Dreamdate and the Hot Toddies update the girl group

Wednesday, May 23 2007
With the advent of the Pipettes, El Perro Del Mar, and even Amy Winehouse to a certain extent, the girl group sound has returned to the indie arena. Suddenly, there are multi-part harmonies, love-obsessed lyrics, echo-y orchestral production, and girls girls girls everywhere. Several Bay Area girl-group acts have also sprung up recently. But typical of the Bay, these bands — especially Dreamdate and the Hot Toddies — offer a rougher, rowdier take on the vintage sound, adding riot grrl grit and saucy wit to the mix.

Sonically, Dreamdate owes a large debt to '60s girl groups like the Shirelles and the Ronettes, offering interwoven vocal harmonies and percussive hand claps. "At the same time, we were also greatly influenced by the garage scene in Oakland, specifically the dirty, short, poppy songs of the Mothballs," says guitarist Yea-Ming Chen.

On Dreamdate's debut album, Come On Over (recently issued by Mothballs/Makes Nice bassist Aaron Burnham on his Chocolate Covered Records), the threesome of Chen, bassist Anna Hillburg, and drummer Emily Grayson exhibit an appreciation for recent girly sounds as well. "Maon Kur" and "Back on My Feet" feature chugging bass and slashing guitar that could've been ripped from the Breeders' first album, and "New York City" recalls U.K. jangle-pop outfits like Tallulah Gosh. Lyrically, Dreamdate adheres to the lovelorn aesthetic of Motown's finest, while occasionally putting the "grrr" back in grrrl (see "Back on My Feet," in which Chen sings, "I've got problems and I've got doubts, but at least I don't have you").

"I write songs often only when I'm feeling some sort of icky feeling like heartbreak or jealousy," says Chen. "I think Anna's that way, too."

Oakland's Hot Toddies are far more lighthearted. "The Hot Toddies are a fun-centered band who don't like to take themselves too seriously and sometimes drink too much before they play," explains guitarist/bassist Erin Skidmore.

The quartet, whose debut full-length should be out in July, offers similar ingredients as Dreamdate, including sweet multi-part vocals and gritty guitar hooks. But there's a bubblegummy vibe to the songs, and the Hot Toddies' lyrics tend toward the silly or salacious. "Seattle" may be the funniest and sexiest tour song ("It gets so hard without someone to straddle/ I get so horny when I'm in Seattle"), while "Jaguar Love" ("So let me take you for a ride/ You might get laid") sounds like the kind of grrrl-empowered rock that '70s icon Nikki Corvette used to make. And then there's "Geneva," an ode to Swiss derrieres in which the Toddies croon, "Hello sunshine, show me yours, I'll show mine/ Let's do it while we're young."

Unlike Dreamdate, which came by its original all-gal lineup accidentally and is currently using several different male drummers, the Hot Toddies set out to be testosterone-free. "It was a conscious decision to keep the band all-female," says Skidmore. "Being all girls allows you to do silly things you might be embarrassed about in front of guys. ... We've had some crazy times hula-hooping in bars, singing Journey songs karaoke in Vegas, and ghost-riding our minivan."

Still, even in this liberated age, it's not always easier being in a girl group. Just ask Dreamdate's Chen. "We played a last-minute benefit show at the Milk bar for the S.F. Asian Women's Shelter," she recalls. "We were setting up, getting our amps on stage, and this guy comes up to me and says in the stupidest voice ever, 'Dude. There's chicks in your band?' I was like, 'Um, yeah.' And he's all, 'Awesome. Now I'm really excited.'"

Sounds like a dipshit worth writing a song about.

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Dan Strachota


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