Though it was expected to be chilly on the evening of the concert just outside of Portland, the mist accompanied by a brisk wind off the water made for a pretty miserable wait on the expansive outdoor pavilion of Thompson Point. However, that did not deter the many fans of Lake Street Dive, a folk/rock/jazz/soul quartet hailing from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. We didn’t have too long to shiver in the elements before the night warmed up with The Ballroom Thieves, a gritty folk trio also from the Boston area, who showcased both their luscious three-part harmonies and raw, foot-thumping intensity. Ultimately they provided not only an excellent opening set for the main event, but lent an atmosphere of seeing two smaller concerts for one ticket.
After they wiped down their instruments and exited the stage to a growing level of cheers, we once again waited in the rain and tried to keep ourselves warm by huddling together. A carpet was placed on the stage to prevent slipping, and thermoses of tea were brought out in place of the usual beer or water. At long last, Lake Street Dive walked onstage to raucous cheering, with lead singer Rachael Price flouncing in at the rear, her signature golden curls providing some much-needed sunshine. They launched straight into “I Don’t Care About You,” a callous, upbeat power-ballad from their 2016 release, Side Pony. Price was a firecracker at the front of the stage, bobbing and dancing and swaying as she belted out the lyrics into the microphone. The background vocals, provided by Mike Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums), were weak at the start, most likely due to the malfunctioning equipment in the damp environment.
“Call Off Your Dogs” came next, which found Price stepping away from the mic during musical interludes to dance along to Olson’s guitar solos. Before launching into the title song “Side Pony,” she commented on the weather, complimenting the crowd for their exuberance. A life-size blow-up pony was “galloped” onto stage by a roadie, to wild cheers and whistles, before hastily being removed after it narrowly missed crashing into Olson. “Clear A Space” was performed next, a track off their 2012 EP Fun Machine. Price led a call-and-response for the chorus, and Olson traded his turquoise guitar for a trumpet, which he continued to play for “Mistakes;” a fabulous pairing with Price’s sultry alto.
“Hell Yeah” and “Spectacular Failure” were performed in quick succession, with varied introductions; the former was another strong call-and-response exercise, but the latter started off shakily before finding ground and soaring from there. Price took a moment before “Saving All My Sinning” to tell a personal anecdote about saving a chocolate bar in her freezer, breaking into self-conscious laughter at the absurdity of her childhood habits. The harmonies showcased in this and in “How Good It Feels” were especially strong, another example of how Lake Street Dive is able to combine separate talents and utilize them in a group setting.
Each member of Lake Street Dive brought a different personality to the table for the concert, a hint at the benefits of having four equally talented musicians working in tandem. Price was radiant and full of life as the lead singer, a true starlet in her own right. Kearney was her female foil, brunette to the blonde, quieter but providing the backbone to many a song on the bass in addition to having significant writing credits. Calabrese was full of quirky facial expressions and, to our surprise, drummed without shoes on even in the inclement weather. Olson was probably the least expressive, dutifully playing guitar and trumpet with finesse, though after his brush with the rogue pony I can’t blame him for being a little subdued.
Price announced a shift to cover songs in the performance, something the band frequently does. In an homage to overcoming recent gay marriage rights hurdles and the ongoing struggle for transgender rights, Lake Street Dive kicked off with The Kinks’ “Lola,” an apparent favorite of the crowd. For me, it signified a very good ending, as I had to leave soon after. Though I was unable to stay through the end of the concert, I left feeling more than satiated with good music and Price’s infectious energy. Exiting Thompson Point, I couldn’t help feeling grateful that even if for an hour or two, the damp gloom of the day had been lifted by some good ol’ live music.
–review by Juliana Van Amsterdam