Since the Central Park Summerstage and Prospect Park bandshell concerts are cancelled this year, does it make sense to revisit some of the acts who played there? Or is that just plain depressing? After all, an album or a youtube clip is no substitute for the electricity of being a participant in a spectacle. Both venues have had their problems over the years, but it’s sad to see them go, maybe for forever. On one hand, it’s easy to imagine the Live Nation sleazeballs drooling over snagging those spaces more or less fulltime for their obscenely overpriced shows, with an injection of government cash and free rent – all under the guise of throwing a “benefit” for the parks, of course. On the other hand, if the lockdowners get their way, there won’t be any concerts anywhere, ever again – other than the ones we put on secretly, that is.
One of the bands who’d really entrenched themselves in the free outdoor concert series here was Lake Street Dive. They were a real feel-good story: they cut their teeth in New York at the Rockwood, then made the leap to Bowery Ballroom, reaffirming the eternal appeal of oldschool soul music. But the band rocked harder than most soul acts, and really turned up the volume with their 2016 album Side Pony, streaming at Soundcloud. It’s both more rocking and less 60s oriented than the sound they made a name for themselves with.
Bridget Kearney’s fuzz bass kicks off the opening number, Godawful Things; it isn’t long before the band hit a vintage Motown groove with her slithery, leaping, McCartneyesque lines. There are also plenty of White Album-era Beatles echoes in the second track, Close to Me, right down to drummer Mike Calabrese’s ka-chunk Ringo-isms.
Call Off Your Dogs is a smartly crafted exercise in tricky rhythms: briskly waltzing verse, perfectly executed early 70s style proto-disco chorus, complete with pillowy strings – and a theremin as it fades out! The band go back to the Fab Four in Spectacular Failure, which could be a gritty, bluesy John song from the White Album with a woman out front, followed by the even bluesier, I Don’t Care About You, with a dynamic, passionate vocal from lead singer Rachael Price.
So Long is a soul song as starry late 70s ELO would do it – that’s got to be Kearney’s twinkling Omnichord synth and sweeping mellotron (or damn good digital facsimiles). The band bring in swooshy organ in the oldschool ballad How Good It Feels (as in “how good it feels to be alone” – it doesn’t!).
They put a little extra funky bounce in the album’s vintage Temptations-flavored title track: funny how many years it’s been since that hair meme! The one track that doesn’t hold up here is Hell Yeah, a stab at late 60s style Rascals schlockmeister pop.
Guitarist Mike Olsen picks up his trumpet for Mistakes, a bittersweet, pensive cheater’s ballad, Price’s voice shiny with regret. Can’t Stop could be a standout early disco era Isaac Hayes tune. They go back to a vintage 60s sound for the catchy anthem Saving All My Sinning, Olsen’s watery chorus-box guitar over sunny organ. Imagine – if it’s not too painful – that you’re standing in the middle of a crowd of people, nobody’s wearing a mask, it’s hot and you have your shades on, and Lake Street Dive are slinking their way through some of these songs.
And while we’re at it, let’s resolve to never, never let what happened in 2020 happen again.