Live Review: Lake Street Dive at Observatory North Park, February 24, 2016

Lake Street Dive

“Welcome to the Side Pony release tour!” Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price informed the sold-out Observatory North Park crowd.

Price was referring to the quirky quartet’s new album on Nonesuch Records, an instantly engaging mix of blues, jazzy pop, ‘60s rock, and soulful R&B. While many in the crowd were obviously familiar with the band, which formed in Boston 12 years ago, this reviewer was relatively new to them and was soon shocked that they have yet to become a household name.

One of the first things you notice about the group — which also includes guitarist/trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Michael Calabrese — is how incredibly tight they are playing together. Having met and developed their chops at the New England Conservatory of Music, it’s no wonder songs like “Easy On You Baby” (which featured a fine horn solo from Olson) and the poignant “Better Than” (written by Kearney) were delivered with deceptive ease.

Despite the universal talent and dozen years spent honing their sound, the one thing that really sells Lake Street Dive is Price’s rich, mellifluous, and often sultry vocals. She’s one of those rare singers who is equally adept at delivering tender moments — as on the heartbreakingly beautiful “So Long” — as she is belting out big songs like “Close to Me.” That said, Price is often accompanied by beautiful harmonies from her bandmates, which was particularly evident on “Side Pony” (a song about a hairstyle serving as a metaphor for being yourself) and the set-closing “Call Off Your Dogs.”

The band, named after a street of seedy bars in Olson’s hometown of Minneapolis, turned in a 90-minute performance, covering the majority of the songs on Side Pony. Lake Street Dive also served up some popular tracks from their catalog, including “Seventeen” (from 2014’s Bad Self Portraits) and “Don’t Make Me Hold Your Hand” (from their 2010 eponymous album), both of which elicited shouts and squeals. Even a jazzed-up cover of Annie Lennox’s “Walking On Broken Glass” stirred up the crowd.

Throughout the night, Lake Street Dive had no problem rocking their side pony and seemed to be enjoying every moment. With Price swaying her arms and tossing her hair during each song, Olson looking uber chill while effortlessly hopping from guitar to horn, Kearney strumming her standup bass with a subtle head bob, and Calabrese hamming it up behind his drum kit, how could you not join them?

The Suffers — a neo-soul 10-piece featuring another powerhouse female singer in Kam Franklin and a killer horn section — opened the show and proved to be the perfect pairing with Lake Street Dive.

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