I’d been expecting a quiet Saturday night out at the bar, but it was fast turning into chaos.
I waited with bated breath, the sound of my own heartbeat pounding in my ears, the anticipation in the air so dense I could cut it with a knife. I couldn’t see the stage from where I was sitting because the audience was near shoulder-to-shoulder packed, but from the eerie—almost reverent—silence that passed over the crowd, I knew the band had taken the stage and were about to play.
Followed by another.
The bassline echoed off the walls, resonating with the crowd’s thrumming energy, its infectious rhythm building in a slow crescendo, raising the excitement in the bar higher and higher.
The explosive sound of drums broke through the bassline and people began shouting and pumping their fists in the air to the beat like an angry mob. I looked to Jen for her reaction and saw her eyes wide and mouth in the shape of an ‘O’.
I wanted to see the band badly. I’d been to enough rock concerts to know that half the performance was the music and the other half was in the way the band worked the stage. They must’ve been a local act because I didn’t know what they looked like and hadn’t seen them perform before.
After getting up from my barstool and stupidly jumping a few times on my four-inch heels—which only got me closer to twisting my ankle than seeing the stage—I realized we’d have to get closer.
"Come on!" I shouted to Jen.
Yanking my purse off the counter, I grabbed her hand and headed toward the crowd. Distantly, I registered a voice behind me saying "I have a really bad feeling about this, Riley!" but I ignored it.
It had started as a typical night out in downtown Manhattan with my co-worker Jen. On our way to our usual drinking spot, we took a detour and stumbled across a sign advertising for the Wallabee Pub—a grungy dive bar that must have been one of the last places in Manhattan where Jen and I had never gone on a Saturday night. The sign had a cartoon kangaroo dressed in a tuxedo and sporting a purple mullet. It was cute and we felt adventurous, so we decided to check it out.
I’d been in the middle of complaining to Jen about a new travel assignment I’d been given at work when things in the bar quickly got weird.
A guy appeared on stage and announced that "The Cocks" were going to play a secret, impromptu show in ten minutes. As soon as the words came out of his mouth, pandemonium erupted. People started screaming with excitement and flooding the dance floor in front of the stage. Phones, lit up by thumbs, looked like fireflies in the dim lighting, a few girls fainted, at least one vomited, and Jen and I sat at the bar, completely dumbfounded. Curiosity led me to look up the band on my phone, but I scowled when all the search hits that came up were pictures of dongs.
I pulled Jen into the crowd, and something whizzed by our heads, making us do a double-take. Was that a shot glass? We shouldered on, but before we even got past the first row of people, a flurry of beer mugs, bras, and shirts bombarded us. People were undressing and alcohol was flying. My pulse began to race. The situation was quickly turning into one of the wildest concerts I’d ever been to.
And I’d been to Coachella.
"I’m getting half a Victoria’s Secret store thrown at me!" Jen shrieked, pushing her glasses higher on her nose.
The night felt crazy even to me—I couldn’t imagine what Jen must think of the crowd here at the Wallabee. Other than the occasional night out for drinks to release work tension, Jennifer Benton fit the straight-edge image of a professional accountant to a tee—pixie haircut, thick glasses, and pant suit included. Since I was more lively and rebellious, we complemented each other well; I pulled her out of her shell, and she pulled me out of trouble. Well, at least some trouble, anyway.
"Suck it up!" I said. I knew this wasn’t really her scene, but tonight, we were going to let loose. It was hard to see in the low lighting, but I pulled her along as we dipped, ducked, dived, and dodged our way through the hail of clothing falling around us.
Just when I thought the worst was over, a thin white material enveloped my eyes. "Ugh! I got some guy’s underwear thrown in my face!" I cried, throwing the garment off into the crowd and spitting cotton threads from my mouth while Jen laughed at me. Not only were the girls getting wild, but apparently so were the men—the few that there were. I shuddered, imagining the half-naked guy who owned it flopping up and down to the beat, his penis doing the same.
"I think we should turn back to the bar, Riley. This is dangerous!"
"No, we can’t give up!" I said, pulling my friend along. "I’ve seen worse. We’ll be fine!"
We squirmed past feverish bodies, avoiding randomly thrown paraphernalia while the pace of the music increased. Our urgency grew with the beat and within moments, I’d lost both my heels and had torn the hem of my little black dress. My breathing was ragged, and I was sweating like I’d just been in a sauna, but I didn’t care. Curiosity was my kryptonite, and I was determined to make it to the front of that stage—minor setbacks be damned.
Right as I elbowed my way past a pair of headbangers, the music stopped.
A moment passed in complete silence. Then, a distinctly masculine voice broke through.
And this is how it feels when I lose myself in you
And this is why I’m caged and bound, frozen by your secrets
And this is where we hide, when we’re lost inside
And this what I do to fight my way back to you
The tone was intimately low but carried a dangerous edge of intensity, effortlessly shifting between smooth legato and fierce gutturals as the beat picked up again. High-pitched female screams from the crowd followed each verse.
I’d been to a lot of concerts, but I’d never heard a voice like that before.
Heart racing with more than anxiety, I was suddenly reminded of an old myth I read in high school: man-eating half-bird-half-woman creatures who would use their beautiful voices to lure men to their doom. Back then, it seemed like a silly story—what voice could have that effect on people? But now, listening to another soaring chorus, I was beginning to rethink that opinion.
Jen and I continued fighting our way to the front. I no longer had to pull her along, rather, she was pushing me forward, the Siren’s voice taking effect on both of us. I released my grip on her hand for just a moment and a rush of sweaty bodies separated us. I spotted her among a flurry of guys and girls jumping up and down, banging their heads to the beat.