Lake Street Dive Returns to Brooklyn After a Killer Doublebill with Sharon Jones
Good Cop: We’re taking over this blog, I tell you. We got to see the best concert of the entire summer, Lake Street Dive and Sharon Jones, out behind the World Financial Center. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Bad Cop: Don’t get all excited now. It’s the first concert we’ve covered here in two months. And this one was back in July.
Good Cop: For awhile I thought we’d always be the scrubs here, but now we’re getting to see the best shows in town. LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson, Serena Jost, and now Sharon Jones. So get ready to kick some ass!
Bad Cop: I’m not holding my breath. Lake Street Dive are basically an oldschool soul band with distorted guitar, would you say that pretty much sums them up?
Good Cop: That’s true, but let’s not confuse the audience, the loud guitar doesn’t make the music punk: it’s still soul music with roots in the 1960s. Think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but with a woman out front, and a lot louder. And Rachael Price, their singer, just gets better and better. It’s like she was good last year but she’s great this year – and she just keeps finding ways to bend her notes more subtly, and belt more powerfully, and cajole and wail and do everything that makes a soul singer worth seeing. There are a million white girls with big voices out there trying to do the American Idol thing, but she’s something special. And the band was amazing. If you missed this show, Lake Street Dive are at the Bell House on Sept 15 at around 9.
Bad Cop: What really shocked me was that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. Which isn’t to say that Sharon Jones was bad – she was as amazing as she always is, which is even more impressive since the poor woman was coming off of chemotherapy and was probably fried just coming back from European tour. But Lake Street Dive drew the bigger crowd. Looking back, they should have headlined. That’s major.
Good Cop: I wouldn’t say that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. They outdrew her. Sharon Jones jumped, and stalked, and slunk across the stage and sweated up a storm. She’s cancer-free and was celebrating that and just glad to be alive, and the band and the audience fed off that energy. It was so heartwarming, I almost cried. But there’s no question that Lake Street Dive were the big draw.
Bad Cop: Interesting to compare the two crowds. Lake Street Dive: almost all-white, mostly female, monied, Upper West Side. [to Good Cop] Hmmm…could you pass for Upper West Side? Do you iron your hair?
Good Cop: [laughs] Naturally straight. [motions to her forehead] See, bangs!
Bad Cop: OK, I learn something new every day. Sharon Jones’ crowd: as you might expect, more ethnically diverse, more diverse incomewise too, several gaggles of gay Bushwick dudes.
Good Cop: She would have outdrawn Lake Street Dive pretty much anywhere in Notbrooklyn, and definitely in real Brooklyn. But the Bushwick dudes can’t leave Bushwick. Taking selfies in an untrendy neighborhood, no can do. Geotagging is a bitch…
Bad Cop: So let’s count our blessings we weren’t downwind of a bunch of stinky trendoids – and let’s tell the people about what we saw. There was a brass band who opened, who were insufferably boring…
Good Cop: …which might seem like an oxymoron because brass bands are exciting, almost by definition. I mean, why would you be in a brass band if you weren’t an extrovert, right? But this brass band somehow managed to find a way to be really tepid. I basically texted through their whole set. And that went on forever. I kept hoping they’d be done.
Bad Cop: Lack of tunes, that was the issue. But then Lake Street Dive came on and you were happy again.
Good Cop; Very. Cool contrast: intense guitar and vocals, Mike Olson and Rachael Price; slinky groove, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike Calabrese on drums. Bridget didn’t take any solos like she usually does and that was too bad – but that was ok. A couple of songs had Olson playing trumpet and you’d think that with just trumpet, bass and drums, the sound would be really sketchy and skeletal, but it wasn’t.
Bad Cop: That’s the vocal harmonies. Everybody in the band sings. Did you notice that?
Good Cop: And they were good…
Bad Cop: Part of me wants to say that they have a totally contrived sound: they’ve completely internalized a whole lot of 1960s soul styles. And they’re on a label. Do you think they’re a creation of the marketing department? You know, a very clever imitation of the real thing? You’ve got Lady Gag for the pre-K crowd, Katy Perry for the gradeschoolers and Lake Street Dive for the smart kids?
Good Cop: No label would ever create a band for smart kids because that audience is way too small. And Lake Street Dive have been doing this since way back, before the label.
Bad Cop: OK. I discovered from watching the band this time that Bad Self Portraits, which is a satire of selfie narcissism and the title track from the band’s latest album, was written by Kearney. And I dug her evil chords on Johnny Tanqueray…
Good Cop: …which I love because it’s about this bad dude that no girl can resist, and every girl can relate to. Which might explain the crowd…
Bad Cop: For me the high point was where Rachael would hold the notes for, like, forever. And Rabid Animal, the pissed-off one about moving back to her parents’ basement.
Good Cop: We don’t know if that’s about her or not. I liked the two new songs they played: the slow one with the Beatlesque verse and the rocking Stonesy chorus, then Rachael’s big wounded ballad. The band really took the angst factor all the way up for that one.
Bad Cop: They’re a touring machine. I’m not a fan of pop music in general, as you know, but this band slays me: their songs are so catchy and they do everything right. They don’t waste notes. The songs don’t follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern. The singer is a monster and so is the bass player. And they don’t fall into the phony-gospel American Idol vocal trap.
Good Cop: Ha, they don’t use autotune either. Not that they need it.
Bad Cop: I was wondering when Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-King opened, whether they’d be babying her – especially since they started with that James Brown style intro, you know, the instrumental medley with all the hooks from the hits, and then the two backup singers doing their single and the B-side…
Good Cop: They were awesome! Bouncy wistful tonguetwisting stuff, straight from the bargain bins around 1973 – I mean that in a complimentary way…
Bad Cop: How ironic that stuff that sounds like it would have been a little too obscure to have been a hit back then would be the material a band would want to be playing 40 years later…
Good Cop: Audiences are pickier and more sophisticated now.
Bad Cop: I liked the boomy noir Clairy Browne style ones they did afterward. With a different beat the first one would have been a reggae song.
Good Cop: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.
Bad Cop: Then Sharon came on and she was on top of her game. Purring and cajoling and strutting and shouting over catchy vamps with tantalizing little breaks for guitar, or baritone sax, or organ.
Good Cop: You’re right, this was kind of a dark set, which surprised me since this was a New York homecoming after the tour, and she’s healthy now, and she took a lot of time to celebrate that. But otherwise the songs were closer to the ones this band made backing Amy Winehouse: lurid and slinky and brooding.
Bad Cop: They’d pick up the pace and bring it down again: a couple of summery ballads, then a rainy-day number. The cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a lot closer to the Tina Turner version. Then there was a catchy original right afterward that was a lot more cheery and bouncy, straight out of a John Waters 1965 scene. The backup singers joined in a lush, early 70s, jazzy number that sounded like the Three Degrees, then the set got gritty again, then there was a funky James Brown medley, Sharon’s long digression about how she’s healthy again, and then they closed with Retreat. Which is not exactly a happy song, and reinforces what you were talking about earlier.
Good Cop: Didn’t they do The Horse?
Bad Cop: Yeah, bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up in more than one song. This band does that a lot. They know every classic soul riff ever written and they can’t resist playing them. Which sometimes leaves you wondering whether they’re playing originals or obscure covers. That by itself proves how closely they nail those oldschool sounds, and of course that extends to the vocals as well.
Good Cop: Which did you end up liking better, Sharon Jones or Lake Street Dive?
Bad Cop: I never thought I’d ever say this, but I thought they were equally good. Although the crowd was annoying.
Good Cop: Yeah, but that’s always the risk you run with these outdoor shows.
Bad Cop: There was that yuppie brutalizing his wife, you remember, that fat girl with the frizzy hair next to us. That douchebag’s annoying nasal voice is all over my recording of the show. Remember, we had to move? I hope she shoots him.
Good Cop: I hope she gets away with it. I’ll give her an alibi!
Bad Cop: Yeah, and then we ended up behind that smelly guy and we had to move again.
Good Cop: Well, at least we had someplace to move to. You have to admit, it has been the best summer ever in this city, hasn’t it? You go back further than me. Can you remember such a great summer here, ever?
Bad Cop [pauses, thinks about it. Guardedly]: There have been excruciating summers where I’ve had more fun. But as far as your basic creature comfort, this summer is as good as I’ve ever seen it and that’s including the last few days which have been nasty. And we’ve got another summer show to relate here, but that’s going to wait til another day.