The Ditty Bops’ song “Walk or Ride” starts off sounding as if it’s going to be an environmentalist-lesbian-cycling anthem. That would make sense: Ditty Bops leaders Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett are, after all, a lesbian couple (they were married last year during the brief, happy period when that was legal in California), and they did make a statement by traveling all of their 2006 national tour by bike. But soon “Walk or Ride” turns into something else entirely. In their characteristic tight harmonies, Barrett and DeWald sing, “You might find the meaning of life in the barrel of a rifle/ If it’s pointed at a bird or at your head./ But me, I’d rather plant a tree that grows up tall for all to see/ Until I need a pencil. Then I’ll chop it to the ground.”
That oddball sense of humor comes through in most of what the Ditty Bops do. Their live shows are heavy on goofy audience participation and dancing. Their publicity photos are so campy, they make the Decemberists’ photos look like candid snapshots. The Ditty Bops even produce bikini calendars featuring themselves in retro-cheesecake photos. Not exactly what you’d expect from an acoustic band listed on the website lesbians4lesbians.com, alongside folk veterans like Janis Ian.
In fact, the Ditty Bops’ music leans more toward Jazz Age sounds than folk. They have more in common with today’s burlesque revival than with earnest singer-songwriters. As much as they represent today’s world of sexual freedom, environmental consciousness, and online marketing, the Ditty Bops conjure thoughts of a vanished (and partly imaginary) time when art and entertainment were simpler — and more fun.
THE DITTY BOPS: AcousticMusicSanDiego, Saturday, October 24, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $15 advance/$20 door.