The modern music industry is in desperate need of soul. Sure, many pop divas are capable of gospel-adjacent vocal acrobatics, and most (if not all) chart-topping chord progressions are stolen from the blues, but there’s just something about soul music that makes it special, makes it something to look for. This soul is what makes pop-folk-rock outfit Lake Street Dive so intriguing ― and so goddamn fun to listen to. Made up of five conservatory-trained jazz musicians, the group manages to merge the funky sounds of classic soul and R&B with a modern folk sensibility, with lead singer Rachael Price’s smooth voice carrying every influence gracefully.
It’s not an easy thing to mix all of these inspirations and pull it off without losing the music’s innate soul, but Lake Street Dive seems to only enhance it, bringing their mix of sounds to a level each one couldn’t achieve alone. The band is hard to categorize, some calling it blue-eyed soul, others pop or folk rock, but fulfilling a niche is not the point of their music ― it is, quite simply, to tell true and lasting stories.
All this is present in their records, but this Tuesday at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, the audience was in for a pleasant surprise. There’s something almost magical about what happens when all five members of Lake Street Dive come together and make music, more so than could ever be caught on studio tape.
You can tell the bandmates have been playing with each other for over a decade immediately, from the way they looked at each other and kept up with one another throughout the concert. Some would say that Price, with her stage presence and inimitable poise, is the star of their live show, but I would beg to differ. Bassist Bridget Kearney, percussionist Mike Calabrese, guitarist/trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson and newer member keyboardist Akie Bermiss are all consummate performers in their own right, bouncing the audience’s attention back and forth like a musical beach ball with every song.
Although the Royal Oak Music Theatre was packed for the sold-out show, every song felt intimate, with the members of both opening act The Wood Brothers and Lake Street Dive themselves inviting the audience in for a truly shared experience. There was very little banter back and forth between songs, but it was unnecessary; the lyrics of each tune were like a conversation in every way except their musicality, as stories of love, loss and spiteful triumph were told through Price’s lilting alto voice.
By the time they reached halfway through the show, the audience had lost their inhibitions completely, dancing and bobbing to the undeniably catchy beat of bass and drums. If there’s anything Lake Street Dive knows how to do, it’s put on a show. The group ran the gamut between their own new and old originals and perfectly placed covers like Hall & Oates’s “Rich Girl” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” without losing any of their singular charm. When they play other people’s songs, it doesn’t feel like it; they make every melody their own, infusing a modern sense of soul into every note.
When I say that Lake Street Dive’s show was one of the best I’ve witnessed, don’t take it lightly. Their performance is beyond anything that can be described on paper, as cliche and hyperbolic as that seems. The band is capable of creating simultaneous comfort and energy in their audiences, lifting them up while leaving them in awe of the music they create. When they played, they weren’t playing alone; instead, the voices of hundreds in the venue rose to join them, dancing and shouting out lyrics in a passionate embrace of the beat.