Lake Street Dive Look Back to the Future of Pop and Soul Music at Madison Square Park
Lake Street Dive are the future of pop music. The crowd at Madison Square Park Wednesday night reflected the Boston four-piece band’s popularity: lots of couples on the lawn. Frontwoman Rachael Price’s growly, feline MRAOOOWR delivery over the band’s eclectically jaunty bounce built a sulty but boisterous wee-hours atmosphere. There are plenty of blue-eyed soul women out there with voices as good as Price’s, but what makes her special is that she doesn’t overdo it: she could be an American Idol type if she wanted, but she knows the value of holding back and works it. And while lyrics are not this band’s main focus – like most oldtime soul and swing bands, they ponder the trials and tribulations of romance – the band has a coy sense of humor and isn’t afraid to use it without getting cheesy.
Likewise the rest of the musicians. Drummer Mike Calabrese – who’s also a capable songwriter, as the band reminded throughout their set – adds nimble accents in tandem with the bass so that when guitarist Mike Olson puts down his guitar and switches to trumpet, there’s no appreciable sonic drop-off. Olson’s Strat was amped up more than usual on the outdoor stage, a blast of distortion and treble in contrast to the more subtle timbres he uses in a small club milieu, which is where the band is best appreciated. Their not-so-secret weapon and main soloist is bassist Bridget Kearney. Like the rest of the band, she comes from a jazz background, and she is the rare bass player who you not only want to hear solo: you end up wanting to hear her solo more! She did that several times, showing off an effortless command of soul, rockabilly and jazz chops and didn’t waste a note, burning through chords to cap off one big crescendo, another time wailing down the scale with an impish These Boots Are Made for Walking smirk.
The set list mixed in a lot of new material, heavy on the oldschool soul. Again, what distinguishes Lake Street Dive from the legions of retro 70s white soul-influenced bands out there is that they hang back in the groove. For them, retro means the 60s all the way back to the 30s or even a decade earlier on occasion, but with rock energy. Olson’s guitar dipped and bent notes over the casually expert sway of the rhythm section as Price purred and pulled on and off her notes with elegance and grace. There wasn’t any gratuitous Clapton-style guitar soloing (Olson took a grand total of one, and it was short and sweet), no blackfacing the vocals a la Dave Matthews or whoever happens to be on American Idol this week, no flatulent funkdaddy fingersnapping bass, just a solid low end that would have benefited from a fatter sound mix. Ask yourself: when’s the last time you found yourself wanting to hear more from the bass player? That’s this band’s genius, in that their music is accessible and attractive but not the least bit stupid. Bands like this used to get commercial radio airplay: it’s a good bet that when the corporate radio monopolies are broken up (and they will be, in your lifetime: change is gonna come, folks, and we’re all going to be part of it), everybody in the laundromat will be able to smile and hum along to a Lake Street Dive song or two. Most recently, they’ve made the big room at the Rockwood their usual stop during trips to New York: watch this space