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Take musical plunge with Lake Street Dive

Band will bring upbeat show to Foellinger Theatre

Lake Street Dive will be at Foellinger Theatre on Aug. 9.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 3, 2022

Although they’re hardly a secret, we’re still surprised by how many folks aren’t familiar with Lake Street Dive, a groovy pop/jazz/soul band of close friends that have been together 18 years. 

Since 2010, they’ve put out five studio albums to critical acclaim. This summer they’re touring theaters in the East and Midwest, and selling out in advance. 

Take our word, and grab your tickets now for the Aug. 9 show at Foellinger Theatre with opening act Madison Cunningham.

Getting their break

Lake Street Dive began when four budding songwriters met as undergrads at Boston’s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. Starting from jazz, they forged a unique sound based on classic R&B and pop, but with a unique instrumentation, sound, and stage presence. 

Singer Rachael Price, who you would never guess was from Nashville, Tennessee, was joined by Mike Calabrese on drums, Mike “McDuck” Olson on guitar and trumpet, and Bridget Kearney on an instrument that hasn’t had a place in pop music in 70 years: the upright acoustic bass. 

Toiling for years, the band broke out in 2012 by a method that was still rather new: they set up a camera on a sidewalk in Boston, played a slow, soulful unplugged arrangement of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and put it on YouTube. Today it’s reached 7.1 million views and counting. 

Their ensuing studio album, 2014’s Bad Self Portraits, rocketed into the Top 20, leading to them playing all the late night talk shows and touring all over.

In 2017, they added keyboardist Akie Bermiss, who filled out the band’s previously stripped-down live sound and immediately made a big contribution to the songwriting. 

Now, coming out of the pandemic, McDuck and his trumpet have retired, and new guitarist James Cornelison is winning over fans.

All about that bass

Attention naturally focuses on Price, whose agile, soulful voice, and cheerful, carefree stage presence are nothing short of stunning. Maybe you can compare her to Adele, but with a playful attitude that pervades all of Lake Street Dive’s songs. 

But here at Whatzup we were really jazzed, pun intended, to get an interview with Kearney, who writes a lot of the songs, sings backup, and provides the unique sonic element that propels Lake Street Dive’s sound, plucking that big old acoustic bass.

How the heck could that work with the band’s original material that so lovingly pays homage to the ’60s through the ’80s, from the Beatles-que through R&B, acid rock, and jazz fusion, even disco? And particularly with their inventive covers of classic songs from those years? 

“Every producer that we’ve worked with has been really supportive about the upright bass,” Kearney said. 

Listen carefully, and you’ll hear it, big and resonant and woody, and not made to sound like a bass guitar at all. 

“I think they all just understood that that’s the instrument that the band is built around,” she said. “I’ve never really heard any pushback from hardly anybody on that. Not from fans, not from producers, not from the label. I think that’s something that people dig about the band. 

“From my end, I think it’s cool, and I’ve had a lot of fun trying to figure out the language of electric bass and how to put that onto an upright bass. Technically, you have to figure out how to adapt those lines to this different instrument. That’s been a really fun challenge for me over the years, but also the fact is I didn’t own an electric bass until about a year ago.”

Yes, fans, for the first time in her career, you’ll get to see Kearney jump around and rock out on a little Hofner Beatle bass guitar on a couple of songs in the set.

Music for everybody

In a review of their 2021 album, Obviously, Rolling Stone said, “They’re still oddballs, but in the best way.” But trouble arose when it stated, “They’ve made their first truly abashed yacht rock record.” 

Kearney put a cannonball through that hull. 

“We do not self-identify as yacht rock,” she said unabashedly. 

What do we hear on that album? 

“Producer Mike Elizondo was very good at continuing to open doors for us, sonically, and not being afraid of changing the sounds that we’ve been using in the past, and incorporating new colors into our sonic pallet,” she said. “He was the one who proposed that we get the string arrangements for ‘Nobody’s Stopping You Now.’ And he was the one who helped us believe that we could do the a cappella arrangement for ‘Sarah.’ Those are things that we had never done before, and that I was super-happy with the way they came out.” 

And those oddball hooks? Listen to the lead single, Kearney’s smooth and groovy romp ‘Hypotheticals,’ and you’ll spend all day and half the next trying to get that catchy chorus out of your head.

The big surprise is the band’s forthcoming EP of covers, Fun Machine: The Sequel, to be released in September. We’ll get new takes on the Pointer Sisters, Carole King, Shania Twain, Dionne Warwick, the Cranberries, and Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time.” Their trailer video says, “Rated F for Too Much Fun. Some material may not be suitable if you hate fun.”

Like everybody in 2022, Kearney is relieved to see her fans again. 

“What I love about our crowd is that it’s generally both men and women, and it’s generally a wide range of ages,” she said. “We’ll hear from people a lot that say, ‘I love your music because it connects me to my parents, or my grandparents, or my grandkids.’ It’s like families can share this music together. It’s not for any specific generation. That’s one thing that I think is really remarkable about our fan base.”

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