Lake Street Dive at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater, Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 30, 2018.
Boston-founded, Brooklyn-based pop’n’soul band Lake Street Dive has swiftly become a quintessential Meijer Gardens act — debuting in 2015, returning every year since, regularly selling out shows even though their ticket prices have doubled in just four years. (The quintessential Meijer Gardens act? Undoubtedly Lyle Lovett, who’s appeared during 13 of the Amphitheater’s 16 seasons.)
In that time span vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese have seasoned their initial Motown-meets-Beatles stylings with funk and disco flavors, signed with quirky Warner Music imprint Nonesuch, added keyboardist Akie Bermiss as a full member, and scored a top 10 album, 2018’s Free Yourself Up. With 2,000 fans spanning the generations in attendance, this show was set to be a celebration — by both players and audience — of the band coming into its own.
From my point of view, they delivered; the night felt like the most fun of the three Lake Street Dive shows I’ve heard. The simple choice of having Calabrese’s drum kit face the audience (instead of toward stage right) seemed to open a more direct connection between the group and the crowd. And with four albums to choose from, the setlist felt like it flowed better, with more variety in the moods and grooves, consistent forward motion, and a gathering momentum.
Throughout the night, Bermiss’ pads, rhythms and synth licks gave Olson leave to be looser on guitar and play more solo trumpet, and Calabrese’s drumming was splashier and more extroverted. Playing to their respective strengths, Kearney held down the bottom end with solidity and style, while Price cooed, cajoled, tempted and triumphed, delivering alternately sassy and lovelorn reports from the front lines of 21st-century romance. Multi-part harmonies were spot on throughout the night, with Bermiss contributing a winning lead vocal on a typically oddball cover, Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.” Other eccentric ideas like a triptych of songs about the same loser (“Bobby Tanqueray/Spectacular Failure/Doesn’t Even Matter Now”) and the microsuite “Seventeen” came off without a hitch, too. By the encore, as Price soared on the driving “Dude” then simmered through the lounge jazz take on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that brought Lake Street Dive to prominence, I was convinced — this had been a great evening. And the audience response seemed to bear that out.
Except for one thing: my friend from college — who’d first brought Lake Street Dive to my attention, who consistently raves about their abilities, who’s attended all their Meijer Gardens shows with me, whose musical opinions I deeply respect — wasn’t convinced. And he had fair points to make. For one thing, the live sound was substantially louder and boomier than on previous visits — I realized that, on the uptempo tunes, I’d been compensating by listening through the low end fuzz and haze to hear the harmony vocals or Kearney’s detailed bass work. In addition, the thicker, chunkier sound of the Dive’s quintet formation just didn’t work for him; while acknowledging Bermiss’ ability and musicianship, he strongly prefers the open space and freer interplay of the original quartet. And both of us agree that the band’s writing could use a shot in the arm — all the onstage energy pumped life into the new tunes, but on disc both the Nonesuch albums (Side Pony and Free Yourself Up) run out of steam before they run out of songs.
So while I enjoyed the evening, this show also served another purpose — illustrating that “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute” — de gustibus non est disputandum, for any Latin majors. Both of us had strong opinions of the show — and the cool thing was that we could talk through them without feeling like we had to convince the other to abandon his point of view. Probably good for me to remember the next time one of those classic online prog-rock discussions (“Was Genesis any good after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left? Did Trevor Rabin ruin Yes? Was Signals where Rush jumped the shark?”*) break out.
And, since “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute,” I do think that both my friend and I would encourage you to check out Lake Street Dive —- on record and live — for yourself. You can also check out another local review of the show, with an extensive photo gallery, here. The setlist:
- Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts
- You Are Free
- I Don’t Care About You
- Red Light Kisses
- Bobby Tanqueray
- Spectacular Failure
- Doesn’t Even Matter Now
- Hello? Goodbye!
- Hang On
- I Can Change
- You’re Still the One
- Call Off Your Dogs
- Shame, Shame, Shame
- Musta Been Something
- Bad Self Portraits
- Good Kisser
- You Go Down Smooth
- I Want You Back
— Rick Krueger
*- For the record, my answers are: yes; no; and absolutely not.