Rick’s Quick Takes for February

Transatlantic’s The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia is a worthy souvenir of the latest — and last? — tour by our favorite “more never is enough” classic-prog supergroup. Over three hours, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy and sidekick Ted Leonard play every possible note of their ultra-epic The Absolute Universe, plus generous chunks of the band’s first three albums (sorry, Kaleidoscope fans). You might notice some rough edges in Morse’s singing despite a few preemptive downward key shifts, but Transatlantic still delivers the goods without fail — the jaw-dropping ensemble work, knockout solos, choral counterpoint, head-spinning transitions and heart-stopping climaxes just keep coming. And if this is their swan song, thanks for 20+ years of over-the-top thrills and spills are well past due!

Rick Wakeman’s latest album, A Gallery of the Imagination, is less a conceptual effort (like The Six Wives of Henry VIII or even the recent The Red Planet) than an impressionist suite based on a overall musical approach (as on his Piano Portraits releases). As such, Wakeman’s strong suit — spacious melodies decorated with arpeggios aplenty, then rocked up via finger-busting solo work — is here in abundance, with appropriately sturdy backing by The English Rock Ensemble. But be prepared — the line between prog and middle-of-the-road pop is remarkably thin at times, especially when sentimental lyrics like “A Day Spent on the Pier” are declaimed with stagey brio by vocalist Hayley Sanderson. If you can deal with that, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom (best known in the prog world for the Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut with Dave Kerzner and Matt Dorsey) veer in a heavier direction with their new project, eMolecule’s The Architect. The initial blasts of electronica-laced prog-metal, amped up with gusto by Nordstrom, slot in beautifully with the dystopian sci-fi narrative, but it takes a while for Collins’ trademark vocal inflections to peek through the robotic audio processing. Ultimately, the light and shade of “Beyond Belief” and “Awaken” (a ballad in the Phil-to-Simon family tradition) and a building sense of Floydian atmospherics provide the contrast needed for eMolecule’s well-executed sound and fury to fully connect.

I stumbled across the British post-rockers Plank via 2014’s excellent Hivemind. After tackling animals and insects as their previous subjects, the trio widen their horizons here, returning after 9 years for their new concept opus The Future of the Sea. This is a stunning set of limpid, gorgeous instrumentals, weaving elements of psychedelia, prog and math-rock into textures of massive breadth and heft (whether the big guns are being held in reserve or out on parade at any given moment). The closing 6-part suite “Breaking Waves” is a full-on, monolithic delight that mounts to a shattering, satisfying climax. Give this one a try!

The ongoing passing of rock legends tends to direct me toward their most recent releases, especially if I’d dismissed them on initial notice. Thus, when David Crosby died in January, I bit the bullet and picked up his Lighthouse Band’s CD/DVD Live at the Capitol Theatre. Ignoring this beauty, released late last year, was a mistake; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, even moving document of Crosby’s late career renaissance, here shown in collaboration with Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and singer/songwriters Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. Yes, the man’s voice is a shadow of its former self here — but so is his legendary ego; this lovely set may be more of a team effort than Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young) ever was. The jazz-inflected songwriting, the hushed vocal blend, the lovely sense of understatement and space all make this delicate music blossom and take root in the heart. This tour came to West Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018; hearing this set, I’m sorry I missed the show! Yes, it’s that good.

I wish I could say the same about 18, the collaboration with Johnny Depp that turned out to be guitar legend Jeff Beck’s swan song; even putting aside Depp’s recent notoriety, there’s a mismatch of tone that makes the album a puzzling listen. Though Beck’s rich melodicism is as compelling as ever, his soaring aesthetic keeps bouncing off the consistently lugubrious song selection and morose vocals from Depp. Usually I’d be all over an album that ricochets from Motown and the Everly Brothers to Killing Joke and The Velvet Underground, but the eclectic selection simply refuses to cohere. Some glorious moments (instrumental takes on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk” and “Caroline, No”, the John Lennon cover “Isolation” that closes the album on a solid footing), but Beck’s light and Depp’s dark cancel each other out far too often for the music to take wing.

In the meantime, the past month has seen multiple first-rate releases in the jazz (and jazz-related) world:

From out of left field, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price teams with guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles for I Love A Love Song! This second duo effort pairs Price’s well-honed jazz and pop sensibilities with whimsical Vilray originals in the Great American Songbook tradition. Well-upholstered arrangements from a finely tuned large combo and a boxy yet lush recorded sound set up the retro feel; but ultimately it’s Price’s subtle, in-the-pocket sense of swing that sells the music, often breezy and melancholy at the same time.

Piano legend Brad Mehldau has never hesitated to incorporate rock songs into the jazz canon; with Your Mother Should Know, he makes a program of Beatles tunes (plus David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” — it originally featured Rick Wakeman on piano!) sound not just obvious, but inevitable in the idiom. Above all, this is fun, albeit often of a serious stripe; from the headlong boogie woogie of “I Saw Her Standing There” through the thickened harmonies of “I Am the Walrus” and hovering balladry of “Here There and Everywhere” to the stretched-out gospel of “Baby’s in Black” and the ecstatic extended solo of “Golden Slumbers”, Mehldau’s instincts for where to take these songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison are unerring, his invention refreshing and often astonishing, his technique impeccable. Absolutely worth a listen, whether you’re a Fabs fan or not.

Are improvisational Australian trio The Necks “jazz”? Hard to say; but while their music resists categorization (or even description), their latest release Travel is as attractive a summation of what they do as anything. Four pieces of music, each one made from scratch at the start of a day in the studio, building from a minimal idea that gains momentum, complexity and impact through repetition and variation of ideas, dynamics and sounds. “Signal” rambles, “Forming” smolders, “Imprinting” shimmers and “Bloodstream” flares up for a riveting double-album journey. Is it world-inflected rock? Ambient jazz? Something else? I frankly don’t care; I just know that after an online listen, I had to buy it. (And kudos to Vertigo Music of Grand Rapids for having it in stock!)

P.S. In the “blast from the past” department, I’ve spent a surprising amount of time reveling in the swagger of Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, a widescreen slab of power-pop brilliance from 1979. And sticking my toe in the deep waters of Guided by Voices last month led me to their slam-bang “best of” compilation from 2003, Human Amusements at Hourly Rates. Both highly recommended if you wanna rock!

— Rick Krueger

In Concert: Lake Street Dive — A Tale of Two Tastes

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
  • Mistakes
  • 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
  • Seventeen
  • Shame, Shame, Shame
  • Musta Been Something
  • Bad Self Portraits
  • Good Kisser
  • You Go Down Smooth
  • Dude
  • I Want You Back

— Rick Krueger

*- For the record, my answers are: yes; no; and absolutely not.


Lake Street Dive – Good Kisser [Live Performance] @lakestreetdive

Great news… Lake Street Dive has a new album coming out May 4th!

Not only that, but now I will get a chance to see them live again, this time at the famous Commodore Ballroom in downtown Vancouver!

Come and join me, y’all…

Not only are they brilliant songwriters, they also do the greatest covers you have ever heard. Check out their “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and their “Walking on Broken Glass,” and also this gem:

Chilling Out: The Biological Pleasures of Exciting Music @LakeStreetDive

There’s an excellent discussion up online today (“The chills we get from listening to music are a biological reaction to surprise“) about how music can give us the “chills” (wherein we learn that, actually, the technical scientific term is “frisson”). The whole thing is great, but especially the example the author (Katherine Foley) uses to illustrate her discussion. The example comes from Lake Street Dive, also a perennial favorite over here at Progarchy amongst the editors. Here it is:

Take this version of “What I’m Doing Here,” a song by Lake Street Dive, sung by Rachael Price.

This blues piece was written by Price herself, who is a trained jazz singer. Right around 2:06, she sings at comparatively lower notes, followed by a crescendo where she hits an extremely high note before dropping back down immediately afterward. The quick turnaround between the high and low notes, combined with the build-up in between, is climactic, surprising, and resembles wailing in a way. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s a key change a few seconds later (around 2:50) that offers another unexpected treat for the ears.

It’s more than enough to give me chills, and sometimes a lump in the back of my throat. That said, this song resonated with me during an emotionally charged time in my life; those memories undoubtedly enhance my listening experience.

If you’re looking to learn more about the innovative excellence of Lake Street Dive, in addition to buying all their albums, you should read this extremely well written musicological piece on them: “Lake Street Dive: Searching for the Unexpected Chord” (H/T: Progarchy editor Carl E. Olson).

Top 6 Rock Albums of 2016

In addition to my lists of the Top 10 Metal Albums of 2016 and the Top 6 Prog Albums of 2016 (+4 from the Metal list makes it a Top 10 Prog list), I wanted to add another 6 albums of pure Rock.

(For those of you doing the math, this makes it a total of 22 for my favorite albums of 2016. That’s the same total number of favorites that I picked last year.)

Sure, there’s a hint of prog on Space Elevator, especially on the last track, which, at the very end, recapitulates themes from most of the preceding songs on the entire album. And the recapitulation forms a conceptual part of the grand finale to the sci-fi framing sequence for the whole album. But nonetheless the album is mostly a pop-rock masterpiece that goes down smooth, so I place it on my Rock list.

Wolfmother, Weezer, and Sting all delivered perfect albums this year. They each deserve supreme recognition for doing so. Among this year’s most highly satisfying discs, I gave them all multiple spins over the weeks of 2016.

Continue reading “Top 6 Rock Albums of 2016”

Lake Street Dive @LakeStreetDive Live in Vancouver, Canada (March 1)

Lake Street Dive played live in Vancouver on March 1. Appropriately, they played at a Main Street dive in the sketchiest part of the Vancouver East side. Doors were to open at 8pm, and the line snaked around the block well before then, and even long after, since the show sold out. A bouncer greeted my wife with a friendly, “Welcome!” Okay, I don’t know if this was standard procedure, but my explanation was that she was looking so good. Anyway, the interior was a club that was mostly like an empty barn, pretty much geared towards standing around the bar at the back or dancing in the stage room up front. But we found a rare sofa and got a chance to chill out before the show, lying back as we surveyed who was to be seen in the crowd.

The Suffers was the interesting opening act that took the stage at 9pm sharp. As an eight piece that included talented trombone and trumpet players, they got the crowd worked up. The dance floor was full, ready for Lake Street Dive (LSD) when they took the stage at about quarter past 10pm.

Lake Street Dive was absolutely amazing and you simply should not ever miss the chance to see them live. They are stellar on their albums, but this is a band that excels when playing live. Their talent is so immense that they are actually that rarest of breeds: musicians who are even better live. This is how music was meant to be experienced!


The excitement and energy that they bring to their live show is quite astonishing. It’s hard to believe, but the live versions of their songs are even better than the recorded ones. There are sometimes extended bits, new improvisations, and — of course — delightful interactions with the crowd.

LSD vocalist Rachael Price remarked early on about the sea of faces on the dance floor and how they were sending an incredible energy to the musicians on stage. The band loved the crowd, and the crowd loved them back. It was a perfect show, almost two hours long. Take a look at the set list below. Notice where it says that the encore is at LSD’s discretion. Well, guess what they chose to do!


Because the band had had so much fun with the crowd, LSD gave their Vancouver audience, as the encore performance, a stunning live version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Maybe you’ve seen the YouTube video version of LSD’s cover of this classic song, but the live version was even more entertaining — a truly amazing and impressive feat. It brought the house down, and the crowd freaked out and had a blast at every point during the song. We said goodbye to LSD with thunderous, roaring applause.

Besides “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the other great cover of the evening was Annie Lennox’s “Broken Glass” — which was a completely magical experience! The original song is mighty fine, but I dare say that this was the perfect cover, given that the cover was even better than the original. And that they pulled it off live with such an intricate and exciting arrangement! It was totally mind-blowing.

You can see from the set list below that the pacing of the show was a work of art. “Elijah” was introduced by a whip smart Michael Calabrese drum solo. By the way, why don’t more drummers set their drum kit up sideways like he does? Not only can the crowd watch the drummer better, he can communicate with the other musicians on stage much better.

“Elijah” also ended with a dueling bass vs. drums freakout session, as Bridget Kearney jumped onto the drum riser for some insane antics with Calabrese. I have to say that her amazing playing all night song was like a secret thread stitching everything together via an invisible dimension. What a talent!

Mike “McDuck” Olson played nimble guitar throughout the evening but also switched over to  trumpet whenever required. McDuck simply slayed the crowd with his sweet trumpet tone — equally nimble with his brass work as he is on guitar. This guy is a connoisseur of rare sounds and I love how he has mastered the art of timbre.

Every song of the evening had special live features that caused jaws to drop. One example would be the way “So Long” was played, which won me over to appreciate its many underestimated beauties. “So Long” starts only with Rachael singing and also some tastefully spare accompaniment from McDuck on guitar, but then the song builds and builds until finally the whole band comes in and, more and more, generates unprecedented passion with LSD’s killer live dynamics.

If you ask me, did I enjoy the concert? I only got two words for you: “Hell, yeah!


If LSD is coming your way, don’t miss the chance to see them live. They are one of the greatest live bands in the history of music. Each member of the quartet inhabits the upper echelons of musical talent. Each person brings so much to this ensemble — including superb vocals from every member, in order to harmonically craft a rich, and full, living wall of sound.

Rachael Price has charismatic vocal talent that has to be heard live to be believed. Some sound systems highlight how a merely mortal vocalist is really smaller than life; but Rachael’s magical voice is so much larger than life that it completely takes over the sound system and bends it effortlessly to her will. When you hear her sing live, it’s like a miracle is happening. It’s hard to describe the whole effect, but the total musical alchemy achieved by this quartet is something quite special. With rare style and grace they elevate even novelty songs like “Side Pony” into the most satisfying of musical experiences.

Three cheers for Lake Street Dive! Long may they thrive!

LSD and the best cover ever of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

LSD = Lake Street Dive.

This is totally hilarious and completely awesome. One of the greatest covers I have ever seen and heard! Hat tip to Carl for alerting us to this.

A few comments from Carl:

I discovered Lake Street Dive via the work of lead singer Rachael Price, who is a fabulously gifted jazz singer. While still in a teen, in 2003, Price received an honorable mention at the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Jazz Vocal Competition and the following year she was a semi-finalist and the youngest competitor in the history of the Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition. Despite her impeccable jazz chops, she never received the sort of adulation heaped upon female jazz singers such as Diane Krall. In 2004 she began performing in Lake Street Dive, consisting of classmates from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston: Mike “McDuck” Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums). The band was the brain child of Olson and was originally envisioned to be a “free country band” (!). All four members have a deep background in both classical and jazz music, and all four have made known their love for 1960s R&B, soul, rock, and related music. And, in fact, the band first started to gain traction when a self-shot video of their performance of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” went viral.

So, hardly a prog band! But anyone who prefers their pop to be quirky, smart, occasionally edgy, often fun, and always played with impeccable chops and taste, Lake Street Dive is the band for you. And they do have fun taste in cover songs, ranging from ABBA to Fleetwood Mac to Hall & Oates (their version of “Rich Girl” is smokin’, as they say) and Paul McCartney.

Their cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is part of a series of Halloween vidoes they’ve produced in recent years. On one hand, it is quite campy (perfectly fitting for a Freddie Mercury classic) and quite fun, but also impressively sang and played, with some rather brilliant instrumentation. At the heart of it all, as always, are the harmonies and the lead vocals of Price. (Anyone interested in 3:30 of vocal bliss should watch her sing “What Am I Doing Here”).