“Life’s a bitch and then you die; that’s why we get high, because you never know when you’re gonna go,” I sing in an atonal lilt, sounding somewhere between Daniel Johnston and Stephin Merritt. “I think,” my good friend Tim begins, confidently, “I think that’s a Biggie song.” The guy at the bar takes fleeting interest in the conversation. He maps out my craning, unflattering posture. Looks over to my friend, who is now drunkenly focused on his cellphone as if it’s a slot machine lever at an airport casino. “It’s not Biggie,” I loudly assert, “it’s Illmatic – – Nas’ Illmatic.” This is when the stranger dials into our exchange. “I’m glad you’re having this conversation at a Chastity Belt show,” he says. We all laugh as I write down a variation of numbers on my bar check. Digits whirl, dive, and crash in my head as if I’m John Nash. It’s simple math, but I feel like Will Hunting at a chalkboard: Glib. Annoying. Talented. In reality, I’m two of those three things.
Hours earlier, I arrive at The Casbah in the worst shirt I could find. A Hawaiian button-up that appeared to have been hoisted off of Anthony Bourdain’s back in a 2008 episode of ‘No Reservations’. Something a dad would dress up in while at a Fiesta Island BBQ. Or maybe an outfit that Elliott Gould would wear inside of a Barstow diner. Basically, it sucked. To counterbalance the aesthetic, I threw on a Montreal Expos hat. What the fuck is this outfit? 120 minutes later (more math), my clothes would be soaked in craft beer from jumping on my friend’s back when Chastity Belt played “Joke”, one of the most transcendent, hypnotic, and visceral songs of 2015. When alcohol nips at your liver like a pack of piranhas after you ingest seven beers and a shot of Jameson, this is the cut that slingshots you into another dimension. You feel like everything makes sense: the time Nicole Cate threw a baseball at your face, for no reason, while you were swimming at the beach that one night? Suddenly, you understand. When you broke into an abandoned house to listen to Foreigner and put on a stage play for your girlfriend? That, too. “Joke” is an amalgam of everything experienced, everything textural and significant: memories, images forgotten, every single real and imagined shoreline.
Tim and I are at the front of the stage with Ashley, a girl that we just met, minutes earlier, while discussing something I cannot remember. The three of us are elated. A hydra of excitement, appreciation, and energy. We mildly rock and mosh into one another. It’s polite, supervised, electricity – like three airdancers outside of a car dealership. I’m wrecked with barley and sweat. My friend is capsized with whiskey. Ashley’s eyelids are half-mast.
At some point, Lydia Lund repurposes and rearranges her gear. She steps into the microphone. In control, poised, and with a sense of restrained urgency. She digs in. She is fucking cool. The first few beats of “Lydia” flood the speakers. The experience feels special, isolated. There is nothing outside of the Casbah’s doors. The lyrics coast, ebb, float with a perceptive and appreciative confusion. “When the fog meets the water I will ask, ‘what is real’?” Lund sings, “It’s what you feel.” There’s a sense of comfort in defeat. Hope and acknowledgement in the chaos of dubiety. There’s wisdom and joy here, madness and stamina. The sadness of repetition compulsion. There’s no well untapped. No emotion unearthed. Chastity Belt is changing my perception of live music.
After the show, my DC shoes are flecked with beads of errant IPA. I buy ‘Time to Go Home’ on vinyl, and amble over to get each member of Chastity Belt – Jules, Gretchen, Lydia and….Annie, where did you go? – to sign the album cover. Somehow, like we were the Lewis and Clark of bullshit, my friend and I find our way to an In-N-Out burger and sink our molars into a double-double while singing, with a mouthful of leafed lettuce, “I just wanna have a good time! I hope you have a strong heart.”