Lake Street Dive is more than just the sum of its parts even though those parts are damn good. The members of the East Coast quartet are absolute tacticians when it comes to using their sparse instrumentation, striking vocal harmonies and off-kilter swagger to build a full, lush soundscape.
In the awkward space between rock band and lounge act, Lake Street Dive takes full advantage of its conservatory-honed chops to churn out songs that are classic-sounding without being hackneyed; jazzy without being heady; pop sensible without being vapid. Watching LSD deftly navigate these genres live is stunning and on Sunday, Feb. 28, at Cargo in Reno, the four-piece pulled no punches.
Without not so much as a word to the audience, the group took the stage and rattled off three songs from its new album “Side Pony.”
“Godawful Things,” “I Don’t Care About You,” and the title track acted effectively as a statement; a declaration of Lake Street Dive — the indie rock group with a penchant for catchy hooks as opposed to Lake Street Dive — the jazz kids with pretty voices.
Lead singer Rachael Price was subtly electric, her casual hip sway and ever-present Broadway smile only helped bring the focus to her undeniable talent. And even with her powerful, in-your-face ability, the vocal highlights came when she pumped the breaks to sit right on top of the vocal harmonies of the band, like the chill-inducing intro for “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand” or the chorus of “You Go Down Smooth.”
Guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney, and drummer Mike Calabrese, all formidable musicians in their own right, are masters of taste, never indulging their egos to the detriment of the music. Yes, each musician took their short solos but it seemed more to break up any monotony in the set than to “show off” for the almost sold-out venue.
And it’s in that measured restraint that Lake Street Dive thrives so prominently. The players sit well with each other in the mix, carefully avoiding each other’s toes sonically. They play as loud as they need to and use their songwriting and skill to hush the crowd. Their ability to stay so understated in an entertainment business where larger-than-life personalities reign supreme is their biggest asset.
The group finished its set with fan-favorite “Seventeen” from the “Bad Self Portraits” album and its new single “Call Off Your Dogs” only to come back and gather around one mic for a warm encore of “What I’m Doing Here” where Calabrese traded in his drumkit for a tambourine and Olson swapped his guitar for a trumpet. The change in dynamics wasn’t harsh, it was barely noticeable — one final illustration that Lake Street Dive’s deliberate power comes from the musicians themselves, not the volume of the instruments.
Classic soul from the Suffers
The Suffers from Houston are obviously well-versed in the art of the classic soul performance with a charismatic, wailing frontwoman, an air tight rhythm section, and step-togethers from the horn section, they checked all the boxes of a fantastic show and when they really got going, the crowd reacted wildly. The people entering as the band played looked noticeably worried that they had been missing out, which they had. For The Suffers building momentum wasn’t difficult, it was keeping it.
Lead singer Kam Franklin’s fondness for between-song lectures about where the band is from and how important it is to “follow your dreams” often violently halted the set. Their opener “Make Some Room” was the highlight of the performance and a helluva way to start the night.
Related story: Album review — “Side Ponies” defies classification. LINK