Lake Street Dive
Artful Sixties revivalism
From the March, 2017 issue
Lake Street Dive offers artful, luscious sounds rooted in 1960s music, mostly Motown, Southern soul, and the lighthearted do-it-yourself pop that flourished in those difficult times and left so many of us who grew up back then with a lifelong love of pop music. The name refers to a bar-heavy street in the Minneapolis hometown of trumpeter Mike Olson, and the band members say they're so dorky it took them four years to realize that the initials might connote LSD. They got together in Boston, at the New England Conservatory, and became part of the large constellation of musicians from that city who have applied conservatory artistry to American roots sounds. Now they're based in Brooklyn.
A viral YouTube video--a street corner in Boston, a single microphone, and the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," its rhythm reworked by bassist Bridget Kearney into a lazily swinging yet highly subtle groove--helped the group break out from the host of other revivalist groups that circulate among small roots clubs like the Ark. For their latest visit to Ann Arbor, on March 1, they'll be at the Michigan Theater. For a group that pays as much attention to sophisticated sound engineering as this one does, we should have a venue that size with really strong acoustics, but so it goes.
The centerpiece is the singing of Rachael Price, a Tennessean who conjures memories of Dusty Springfield. But the care with which the rest of the band fills out the picture strikes you at every turn. They play a few covers, which heavily rethink their models, but most of their songs are originals like "Call Off Your Dogs," in which that catchily syncopated refrain expresses a woman's attempt to get past a man's defensiveness. The rhythms of Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese are infectious in a dance-pop style but push at the basic beats in a dozen different ways if you listen for them. Olson's jazz trumpet adds an improvisatory aspect to performances that are tightly controlled, right down to wardrobe. The band offers not just a winning solo voice but ensemble work of a very high order.
It's blue-eyed soul at its best. Perhaps the Trump era will sweep away the current wave of innocent revivalism, and in two years music will be made in genres that hardly exist now. Who can tell? But it would be churlish not to enjoy Lake Street Dive.
[Originally published in March, 2017.]
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