Can a band that’s only been around for five years (two in the public limelight) already cycle through three periods? When NPR introduced Chastity Belt to a large portion of Internet music heads in 2013—through the excellent No Regerts—soon-to-be fans discovered punks. These four Seattle-ites crafted uptempo, bass-and-drum driven sub-four minute gems with charming, glaring attitude. Their debut LP featured songs like “Giant Vagina” (a bizarre horror track that the weirdest version of David Byrne would’ve loved to write) and those curious enough to dig up the band’s readily available EPs found things like “Aliens” (a song about procreating with a Martian shouldn’t be so delightfully layered) or “Ponytail” (what Iggy Pop and The Stooges would absolutely submit if they were young punk women today).
Less than two years later, Chastity Belt ignored traditional album cycles and re-emerged with a new LP. Time To Go Home did away with some of the “jokey” lyric play and instead spotlighted more of the feminist undertones that had been there the entire time (like “James Dean,” the party stopping EP jam about taking ownership of the power of sex). This rightfully blew up, generating new fans (suddenly EMP Pop wants you to play, NPR’s Ann Powers praises you) and goodwill from the prior base. Touring cross-country felt inevitable, and similarly skyrocketing Courtney Barnett recognized these guys needed to be showcased.
But at One Eyed Jacks this month, neither of those bands took the stage before Barnett. Somehow Chastity Belt again appeared to pivot, bringing another subtle, pre-existing aspect of their repertoire to the forefront. This Chastity Belt breezed through a seven-song set that paid homage to the grunge aesthetic of their hometown while demonstrating a knack for the driving, ambient creative rock that once propelled Deerhunter to “Best US Band” status.
Perhaps on their way to the same heights, Chastity Belt stands out when compared to ambient titans of today largely because they have Julia Shapiro offering her deep alto rather than some indistinguishable, mumbled dude. On “IDC”—“This song is about Not. Giving. A. Fuuuck.”—she clearly demonstrates passion about vocal work. Shapiro cuts through the song’s sustained rumble throughout the chorus, and the way she extends/leans on a word (“care” becoming “caaarrrre”) captivates.
Closing with “Joke,” the band ends its set on a drone-y, lengthened outro—not with the pace of Chastity Belt 1.0 or the lyrical intrigue of version 2.0. Live, it feels like the first time seeing Bradford Cox’s boys or someone like St. Vincent. The true virtuosity of the song’s arrangement—and the band’s execution—becomes newly apparent. Maybe individual instrument licks blow you away momentarily, but the interplay between them and the overall soundscape being constructed inspires awe.
It’s easy to imagine this perceived change of direction as a case of overanalyzing live performance. Many bands extend a solo section, alter some tempos, or generally steer away from replicating the sounds of recorded albums. But Chastity Belt pushes beyond that—they already have new tracks integrated into this set (on a major tour; within months of an LP release). The Internet hive-mind picked up on this and confirmed it, and the new tracks—for now labeled “Dull,” “The Thing” and “Complain”—imply the drone-ier, sonically experimental approach may not go away during the next studio visit.
No Regerts earned top billing for me in 2013, and initially the lack of those tracks (or even ones from the prior EPs) during this tour on pre-NOLA stops felt disappointing. Then Chastity Belt took the stage, made a sold-out house counting down to Barnett pay attention, and re-introduced themselves to an ever-growing batch of fans. Good luck finding a better set in 2015; make sure to attend these remaining Barnett dates early.
Setlist: 1) Drone 2) “Dull” 3) IDC 4) “The Thing” 5) “Complain” 6) Time to Go Home 7) Joke
Courtney Barnett, a concert-going Rorschach test
“I like how she makes words rhyme when they really don’t, kind of like a rapper.” Courtney Barnett attracts a varied crowd at sold-out One Eyed Jack’s. The brah choosing his personal space over everyone else’s discovered her through a Rolling Stone cover. He later admits he previously knew just one song.
With Barnett, one works. Her Dylan-esque content and delivery (Craig Finn-esque, Cat Power-esque for modern fans?) gets the attention, but live Barnett’s diverse arsenal surfaces. “Elevator Operator” booms with a more prominent backing band, and Barnett’s lo-fi sensibilities morph into power-pop reminiscent of Ben Lee. “Lance Jr.” brings the musician’s 90s influence to the forefront, stretched out and laid back guitar melodies arrive with just a tinge of echo. Through critics argue Sheryl Crow comparisons feel lazy—another female guitarist that occasionally speak-sings and crafts vaguely folksy, twangy soundscapes—some undeniably come for moments just like this.
I thought “History Eraser” would be *the* song. Early, Barnett and band abandon self-consciousness to whip bodies and hair everywhere during “Canned Tomatoes.” Extended and noisy instrumental interludes add credence to the Chastity Belt tank Barnett chose. Folk elements exist, sure, but punk ethos lurks. “History Eraser” heightens that Barnett.
Instead, *the* song comes from her latest. “Depreston”—slow, minimal on sonic power, heavy on vocal melody—runs counter to some of Barnett’s best elements. Yet the relatable story draws everyone in, and its stark contrast with the remaining setlist makes the new standout stand out even further.
Most would end with such a track, but Barnett plays it early, seventh in what would grow into an hour+ set. When you can do a bit of everything, apparently you don’t need concert conventions. And if anything became evident from an evening with Courtney Barnett, her appeal rightfully means many things to many different fans.
Editor’s note: Barnett review first appeared on my Instagram.