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June 2, 2015

Lake Street Dive's talent underappreciated at Thalia Hall gig

In Lake Street Dive’s most viewed video on YouTube, the four-person jazzy pop band performs a slow, bass-heavy version of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on a sunny Boston street corner. At one point, a couple passes by in the background, glancing at the performers with curiosity, but—to my surprise—not stopping to listen.

If I were to happen upon lead singer Rachael Price’s voice performing the remarkably fresh cover of “I Want You Back,” I wouldn’t be able to keep walking; it’s powerfully low and patient, holding notes until her sound has made its full impact.

Despite not being widely recognized, Lake Street Dive is one of the most exciting and talented bands playing today. Trumpet player and guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese, and Price all met while students at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Since its formation in 2004, the band has since relocated to Brooklyn.

When Lake Street Dive performed its second of two sold-out shows at Thalia Hall in Pilsen on Sunday night, Price said early in the evening, “The Sunday night crowd is rowdier than Saturday’s! This is gonna be really fun. Thank you for coming out.”

But it didn’t feel like a sold-out show; it wasn’t rowdy. The crowd, for the most part, was politely curious about the band—like the passersby in the YouTube clip—swaying and moving, bobbing their heads, but never dancing.  Couples limply held each other by the hips. Audience members seated on the second floor balcony didn’t even stand to dance during fast songs like “You Go Down Smooth” from Bad Self Portraits, the band’s most recent album from February 2014.

Perhaps the audience was disappointed that they didn’t perform any of their most-loved covers, including, of course, the aforementioned “I Want You Back,” “Rich Girl” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, and “Faith” by George Michael, all featured on 2012’s Fun Machine. I know I was, but that didn’t stop me from dancing. Perhaps the audience didn’t know how to dance to the songs, with their shifting and unpredictable rhythms. Perhaps they were stunned by Price’s shaking hips and resinous vibrato, or intimidated by the drummer who sat barefoot, wearing a striped t-shirt, rolled-up khakis, and a bandana on his head.

Whatever the reason, it was bizarre. And yet Price called us an exceptional crowd! What does this say about contemporary audiences of this genre?

On Sunday night, they performed songs from their self-titled 2010 album, including “Hello? Goodbye!,” “Elijah,” and “Got Me Fooled,” inviting audience members to participate in a call-and-response for the latter: “drinks in the bar room” and “tapes and some thai food,” they asked us to yell. (The four musicians write the lyrics together.)

The band also performed “You Go Down Smooth” and “Rabid Animal” from February 2014’s Bad Self Portraits, and Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” breaking the night’s no-cover trend.

They were quirky. They sang about life in Brooklyn and the philosophizing provoked by hearing neighbors having sex in “Neighbor Song”: “’Cause we’re all stacked in rows and columns / And if one of them should fall on me / My neighbors making love upstairs would crush me / I’m down on the ground floor.” They also performed a new song called “Poster” from a forthcoming album.

“She’s perfect. I love her,” I overheard a woman near me say to her friend. While this comment, along with the fact that the show was sold out, suggests that Price and Lake Street Dive have a huge following, perhaps Chicago isn’t ready for the band yet.

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