But if you were part of the crowd last night as this Brooklyn based foursome lit up the Chicago Theater with their New England Conservatory of Music trained talent and road smarts, you’d swear that the likes of Charles Mingus, Dusty Springfield, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Etta James, the Kinks, the Jackson Five and a bunch of Muscle Shoals sidemen were also going wild at that party.
And that’s before Freddie Mercury showed up for the encore and Lake Street Dive took one of his classics, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’—a song most musicians would not even attempt—and made it seem easy. Made it their own while not letting anyone forget Freddie for a moment.
Talk about Lake Street Drive and obvious place to start is lead singer Rachel Price. The phrase “force of nature” comes to mind. She’s where your eyes go first when the lights come up. She’s all over the stage, pumping her arms like a speed walker as she sings with a smiling earthy power and range that could electrify a small city. You remember that one time decades ago, seeing Janis Joplin, you think of Ella Fitzgerald.
Then you take a breath and this bass line that would make McCartney smile rises up. You hear echoes of James Jamerson, the unaccredited bass player in most every Motown classic. You hear bassist Bridget Kearney doing what the real greats of the instrument do—making it their own. Her range, precision, intelligence and pure muscle propels every melody. You wonder if she does hand exercises. Because anybody who can play the upright bass like that could probably crack a coconut in her hand without blinking an eye.
As you marvel at Kearney’s strength, a stage guy enters with a giant plastic blow up horse. Named “Steve.” Clearly, these are not musicians who take themselves too seriously. Their new CD is called “Side Pony.” The theme is being happy with who you are when you are just a little bit different than the crowd. Like Steve the plastic horse.
As Steve makes his exit and the band starts up again, you flash on the thought, who corralled that brass section in Nashville and hid them on a stage in Chicago? So you look again and yeah. No one is hiding. That’s one guy playing the trumpet. Mike Olson. When he’s not playing the guitar and the trumpet both in one song, he’s got a sound like a full brass section at the top of their game. The re-occurring thought through the evening was “I can’t believe there are only four people up there. When those four sing and play together it sounds like there are a dozen people on the stage.”
Not only a dozen people playing, but playing together. You watch Mike Calabrese, drums set up front to the right and facing center of the stage where he can make eye contact with his three partners. Calabrese plays the role of band leader with a rhythmic presence so strong that he doesn’t have to say a thing. He’s just making sure there is discipline to the enormous talent of his partners.
He plays the role of stage leader with his presence and his drums. Not the boss. The leader. There’s a difference. And it’s perhaps a key to what makes this quartet so extraordinary.
There is no one star here. They are all four so immensely talented that together they can be even greater than the sum of their parts.
You think about that for a moment. Imagining a world where it wasn’t about who’s in charge. A world where everyone could do what they do best. Share their talent. Share the energy that comes from that. Like the song says, “Rock the side pony!” Sing about what makes you different.
Lake Street Dive has their own very distinct and grandly crafted sound. They know where they came from. They have fun.
And if you listen to them, you will too.