Dum Dum Girls | Photo by Kate Bracaglia | underwaterexplosions.blogspot.com

In the world of rock’n roll, there are two ways to become a star. You’re either born with it—as a natural performer/songwriter—or you work really hard, and gradually achieve it. In the case of Dee Dee Penny, Dum Dum Girls front woman, it’s definitely the latter. For six years now, the raven-haired Penny (real name: Kristin Welchez) has written and performed as Dum Dum Girls, transitioning from a shy, librarian-type, who buried her vocals under a wall of feedback—to a confident pop star, in complete control of her voice and her vision. Last night at Johnny Brenda’s, the latter Dee Dee came to play, bewitching the sold-out crowd with her passionate vocals and commanding presence.

The past few years have been a turbulent time for Penny—her 2011 LP, Only in Dreams, was inspired by the passing of her mother, and spurred passionate, affecting ballads like the stunning “Coming Down.” Throughout her career, she’s overcome extreme stage fright and vocal chord injuries that threatened to derail her. The first time I saw Penny perform, in March 2011, she was passionate but fragile, like a baby lion testing its roar. Last night, she proved undisputed king queen of the jungle, slinking through numbers like a feline seductress, and roaring into the mic with abandon.

She was joined for evening by her backing band: two more guitarists, a drummer, and a bassist, clad all in black, like a goth-pop version of Jem and the Holograms (plus one dude). Together, they rocketed through 15 songs in just under an hour, never pausing to address the crowd (save one coy “you make me feel so good about myself” from Dee Dee, amidst cries of “I love you!”) and ripping through tunes with a detached cool. Opener “Bedroom Eyes,” off Dreams, was warm and hooky, the chorus ringing out through the fog, while “He Gets Me High,” off the EP of the same name, was a swaggering, hazy journey through fuzzed-out vocals and undulating bass. New tune “Rimbaud Eyes” was a set highlight, its blustery refrain casting the girls as new wave stars—while “Lord Knows” proved a moment of real musical catharsis, Dee Dee gripping the mic tightly to croon: “I want to live a pure life.”

The band ended its set with a stirring two-song encore, juxtaposing the sultry, kittenish “Lost Boys and Girls Club” with the devastating slow-burner “Coming Down.” If anyone arrived at the show unsure of Penny’s star power, they certainly left converted.

Bedroom Eyes
I Got Nothing
Too True
Wake of You
Are You Okay?
He Gets Me High
Under These Hands
Rest of Our Lives
I Will Be
It Only Takes
Rimbaud Eyes
Lord Knows
Pale Saints

Lost Boys and Girls Club
Coming Down