October 2, 2016

Dive on In: Lake Street Dive at the State

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Throw a bunch of New England Conservatory grads on a stage, and you can’t help but expect excellence. I knew going into the Lake Street Dive show this past Friday that I would see a tight, bluesy band fill up the State Theatre with sound. I was far from disappointed — Lake Street Dive brought even more presence and expertise than even I expected.

The show opened with PWR BTTM, an energetic duo I’ve hoped to see for months. They emerged on stage, fully prepared to fill the mixed crowd of Ithaca natives and college students with their gritty, glittery garage-punk. They maintain a fun, frivolous energy, interspersed with dialogue on gender identity and sexuality. While they differ tremendously from Lake Street Dive in style, the two bands share the same high level of energy, making the duo a perfect opener. They played tracks from their 2015 record, Ugly Cherries, as well as songs from an upcoming release. And PWR BTTM’s guitarist/singer Ben Hopkins remained in the left wing of the stage for Lake Street Dive’s performance, dancing and singing along throughout their entire set.

Lake Street Dive appeared on stage, unified and spunky, performing “I Don’t Care About You” from their newest album Side Pony. They’re a band made up of only four musicians, yet their sound is resemblant of a full-force blues-jazz band. Their guitarist, Mike Olson, routinely switched to trumpet, and I was amazed at how every person in the band harmonized with lead singer Rachael Price. Price truly stole the show for me. She had tremendous control over her voice, testing out tricks and trills, and belting notes with her jazzy tone as the show progressed. Her stage presence was also commendable, as she ably danced and moved to every song. While the seated State Theatre felt somewhat restrictive at times, by the middle of their set, everyone was up and dancing. People began filling the walkways on the sides of the orchestra, singing along to every song they knew. And Price was leading the way, teaching us all how to move to the band’s music.

Lake Street Dive blends jazz, blues, country and pop elegantly and effortlessly. They have hits that lean one way or the other, but their overarching sound is full and refreshing. I was amazed at how much fun they appeared to have on stage. This is a band that has been together for 12 years, yet from watching them, I got no sense of any emotional fatigue. Instead, they appeared more unified than ever, eager to perform for a crowd of Ithacans. During the song “Side Pony,” the band brought out a giant, inflatable pony and bounced it about on stage. Like PWR BTTM, they’re unafraid of being frivolous, feeling confident that their musicality will shine through regardless of what fun tricks they play on stage. I’m always appreciative of a band like this — one that cares just as much about their stage presence as the music they create.

While they maintained the purity and precision of their recorded tracks, Lake Street Dive also made the concert feel like a skilful jam session. I watched as Bridget Kearney, the upright bassist, took a solo, slamming on her instrument with power and sophistication. There were drum, guitar and trumpet solos as well, making the show feel more about the band than any one single musician. There was a sense of mutual appreciation on stage, as the quartet shared the mic for the song “What I’m Doing Here.” They crowded around Rachael Price, harmonizing soulfully to the words “Leave me, leave me, leave me.” And for the remainder of the song, while they pulled out other instruments and resumed playing, they resided by Price, joining together in harmony.

The band’s encore was one of the most memorable songs in their set. They offered a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an iconic, dynamic and highly musically challenging track. Lake Street Dive’s cover was impressive and intricate. They managed to make the song feel as full as the original, and the cross-generational crowd screamed the words as the band performed the whole song. This was a show I’ll remember for years to come, one filled with skill and sass, music and movement. Lake Street Dive doesn’t take itself too seriously, making the group a pleasure to see, hear and experience.

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].