Another night at The Sinclair in Cambridge, another excellent show. I know last week I said that the November Devil Makes Three concert at the House of Blues was the best concert of 2013, but I think this one may have beaten it out. And coming in just at the buzzer no less. Well done, up-and-coming, surely-next-big-thing performers… Well done.
The Sun Parade, an indie rock outfit out of Northampton, MA, opened the show. They’d recently made an addition to their personnel, introducing a new drummer (Noam Schatz), and though they played a pleasant little set it was clear they were still working on hitting their stride in their new configuration. Chris Marlon Jennings (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Jefferson Lewis (backing vocals, electric guitar, mandolin) clearly asserted themselves as leaders of the band but still looked a little stiff in front of a sold out crowd.
All told, they put down an enjoyable set that sounded to me a mish-mosh of later-years Beach Boys instrumentation and The Cars’s early vocal stylings. As for any lasting impressions of their on-stage demeanor, Lewis at least did appear to loosen up as the evening progressed, but their drummer could definitely have been accused of stealing the show. It was kind of a shame we were so close to the stage as I could only get fleeting glimpses of him, but it was clear that he was wasting no time in displaying his talent and flair.
And then– Lake Street Dive. In a word: tremendous. In four words: best concert of 2013. And in nine words: go see theses peeps as soon as humanly possible. They will not disappoint.
The first thing that hits you is the rhythm and groove: a jazzy concoction with hints of zydeco and New Orleans funk, brought forth masterfully and faithfully by trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney, and drummer/percussionist Mike Calabrese. Then there’s the voice, which singer Rachel Price delivers with a soulful, bluesy alto that has all respects paid to the great female vocalists of the 20th century (Ms. Franklin, Ms. Holiday– I’m looking at you).
Combined, this band makes a heck of a statement, and it’s a statement that has gained interest and a considerable following in the past year and shows no signs of stopping in 2014. The band played tracks from their 2011 self-titled debut album of original material and their 2012 6-song EP Fun Machine as well, but the main focus of the night was the presentation of selections from their forthcoming full-length album, Bad Self Portraits, due out in February.
What was particularly impressive to me is that there was not a timid bone in any of their bodies. Each musician gave 110% of their best stuff, and it showed at every turn, whether it was Kearney’s precise walking bass lines done at break-neck speed, Olson’s crisp and clear trumpet solos, Calabrese’s superhuman control of all rhythmic pieces and patterns, or Price’s deep and resonant sounds or soul-singer swagger at the mic. And they’re effortlessly personable too, wasting no time getting to know their audience, sharing stories with them about the origins of their songs and other anecdotes from the road. Obvious crowd-pleasing stuff, but not stuff that every band can do well. (As if that wasn’t enough, each member, it turns out, has a song or two to their name as well. Talent for days with these kids).
It’s no wonder they’re playing to increasingly more sold out venues. With the New England Conservatory (NEC) where the band met being just a stone’s throw from the venue, Price gushed to the crowd that she was glad to be ending the year playing for a “hometown crowd.” She then mentioned that they’d be back at the Sinclair in February to celebrate the release of their new album. Within 24 hours of the reminder, that show too was sold out. This group is definitely going places.
Their story is pretty clean cut: each band member hails from a different part of the country– Minneapolis, Philadelphia, just outside Nashville, and Iowa– each a talented musician in their own right, and each came to the NEC where they met and began playing together.
The next part of the story is also pretty normal, at least it is in this day and age of online information exchange. After a few years of light gigging and appearances at festivals, it was a host of YouTube versions of covers they’d recorded for their 2012 EP (particularly the one below) that gave them the notoriety they needed (and deserved) to put them on a year of cross-country and trans-Atlantic touring and exposure.
If there was one less-than-stellar piece of the evening I could point to, it could either have been the six dollar hard cider that my lady friend and I shared or the fact that, being a sold out show, there was no extra space to jive or groove along with the performers. But of course, those being the only detractors, there’s no need to complain. If the band deserves the attention and excitement as much as Lake Street Dive does, then I’ll take overpriced, watered-down beverages and a filled-to-the-gills sold out crowd any day.