In 2013, I subscribed to a bizarre YouTube channel called Soul Pancake, created by Rainn Wilson, which focused on local creatives and mental and emotional health. One of their “Sidewalk Sessions” — in which up-and-coming musicians perform live on city streets — appeared in my subscription feed one day titled “Lake Street Dive.” As soon as lead singer Rachael Price opened her mouth to belt a jazzy rendition of George Michael’s “Faith,” I was obsessed with their sound. The soul of her voice combined with brassy notes from Mike Olson’s trumpet, and the bluesy percussion of Bridget Kearney’s upright bass and Mike Calabrase’s drums; it was perfection.
And it’s been really exciting to see them grow over the past three years. The little soul band performing for 15,000 views on an obscure YouTube channel nearly sold out The Masonic last Saturday night, and I was lucky enough to be there. Although I’ve been trying to go to a Lake Street Dive performance for years now (I missed them at Hardly Strictly in 2014 and Outside Lands last year) this was my first time ever seeing them live. They were even better than I could have imagined; they had the same improvised jazz sound as the first time I listened to them, but clearly more trained and polished.
Although the setlist was a blend of music from their new album “Side Pony” and songs from their previous two albums, the mob of people stretched out across the general admission section stayed engaged the entire time. When the older songs came on, however, the crowd really went wild. The sardine-packed main floor bobbed in unison to “You Go Down Smooth” and swing dancers in the wings boogied to “Stop Your Crying.” The throwback jams weren’t just restricted to the “Bad Self Portraits” album; they also performed songs from their self-titled debut, including the upbeat, crowd pleasers “Clear a Space” and “Elijah.”
They carefully chose songs from their new album and it worked in their favor. Opening with “Godawful Things,” “I Don’t Care About You” let the audience know that they would be dedicating some of the show to promoting their new music. They cleverly began with the high-energy songs, including one of the three singles that has been released on Spotify (as the full album is only available on iTunes).
The personality of the band is a perfect blend of each unique band member. Drummer Mike Calabrase performed barefoot and proud, a bandana tied around his forehead; and when he sung his verse in “Seventeen” the crowd erupted in cheers. Mike Olson, a blonde man looking polished and professional in a suit, is exactly who you’d expect an old school trumpeter to be. He’s quiet with a smaller stage presence than the rest of the band, even though his guitar and trumpet playing is one of the sassiest elements of the band. Bridget Kearney wore her hair in her usual, floppy side pony (which inspired the name of the new album). Her fashionable ensemble peeked out from behind her standing bass, which stands a couple of inches taller than its owner.
And then there was Rachael Price: classy and fabulous and powerful, her red, curled hair bouncing around as she swung her hips and sauntered about the stage. She is a charming stagewoman, and really showed an appreciation for the audience and for her San Francisco fans. But her voice…I could write an entire article about her voice alone. It’s so pure and perfectly trained, and she knows every song perfectly. Her improvised scatting and humming blends so perfectly with the music of her bandmates that you think it must be planned and practiced, but every performance is different. She is a professional, and she is amazing, and I want to be her when I grow up.
The Suffers, the show’s opener, shouldn’t go unmentioned, either. They really blew me away with their Tex-Mex soul; a blend of Tejano music from artists like Selena and powerful soul with impressive vocals. Their lively brass trio (with trombone, saxophone, and trumpet) interacted with the chatty lead singer and the audience wonderfully, and their rhythmic choreography really brought the crowd to life. They are the perfect band to open for Lake Street Dive: they fit into a sub-genre of soul, they have funky percussionists and unique and polished fashion sense, and they both have one hell of a lead singer. The Suffers lead vocalist Kam Franklin shook The Masonic’s walls with her belting vibrato. Between performances, she tasked us with remembering that they were The Suffers from Houston, Texas, repeating the name and location multiple times. But she doesn’t need to worry; the band was certainly memorable enough already.
After stepping into a less crowded area of the the venue, a separate platform near the wings of the stage, I was able to get a view of the entire crowd — all the faces crammed into the general admission standing space, all the people in the bar, all the seats filled in the balcony. Everyone looked as happy as I felt, and as we all walked out of the venue, I certainly wasn’t the only one still humming.
Photo courtesy of David L.Garcia/Foghorn