Chastity Belt performs at Gabe’s. Friday, June 30, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann
Due to a busy two nights at Gabe’s and competition from Jazz Fest, the crowd for Chastity Belt was smaller than I had anticipated. Those gathered in the upstairs, however, were treated to a delightful and tuneful evening of music.
Things started with Hot Tang, young performers who engaged directly with the audience in a genuine and unforced way that added the grace of kindness to a loose, exuberant set. The songs spoke much of innocence, ranging from a contemplation of vegetables at dinner to a song whose repeated chorus “It’s a secret!” was enthusiastically echoed by a buoyant audience.
Darren Hanlon played next, an engaging Australian who followed Hot Tang’s lead in being conversant with the audience. His songs were catchy ditties with clever lyrics, notably “Lapsed Catholic.” The highlight of his set was a duet with a tween girl whom he called his “biggest fan in America,” whose 500-mile journey culminated in being invited onstage to sing two songs with Hanlon. It was sweet, with no pretense of a gimmick, and an excellent way to keep a sense of openness within the room.
Chastity Belt, the headliner, brought their critically acclaimed songs to the crowd. Most of the songs merge an angsty rasp reminiscent of the better parts of ’90s grunge with beautiful, melodious, upbeat guitars and excellent work on the drums: It gives their sound the sense of an unsettled dream — the kind whose loveliness covers over a lurking monster. It is the sound of the least awful parts of early adulthood, when one’s inner anxieties are overcome by warmth and joy.
The musicianship, however, sets the band apart. Beyond keeping time, the drums participate in creating the uplift that surges through the minor chords of the choruses. The four women are versatile, changing duties on drums, vocals and guitar without altering the sound of the band. The songs floated along in light layers, allowing an easy immersion into their sunshine, inviting the audience to bask in their bright warmth, especially in the merging of the melodious guitars.
Throughout, the more languid verses would explode into bright choruses, a contrast echoed with lyrics sung with a tinge of regret and disappointment. This gestured to a mature awareness of the bruised failure of a beautiful promise. The lead guitar continued to lend droplets of sunlight over the steady rhythm of the percussion, providing complex melodic exchanges. The masterful guitar work reproduced this, too, with an ebullient joy.
The audience, smiling, exited after the set into a night sky filled with the songs of the DJ-led dance party, an excellent end to an incredible night.