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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Lake Street Dive compels audience with soulful, fun music

What do you get when you combine powerhouse lead vocals, a smooth jazz vibe and a rock n’ roll beat? Two hours of unadulterated joy produced by the multi-genre, Boston-found band Lake Street Dive.

The band’s name came from a street in lead guitar player Mike Olson’s hometown of Minneapolis. The group returned to the Midwest at The Sylvee on Tuesday night and brought all the soul.

The show opened with Jalen N’Gonda, an up-and-comer on the music scene who delivered major groove, accompanied by a bassist and a drummer with N’Gonda on electric guitar. N’Gonda casually sipped his beer between songs, chatting briefly and comfortably with the audience.

His music is easy to listen to, blending classic and contemporary soul influences to create a unique sound. It’s hard not to hear the hints of old Motown on his track “I Guess That Makes Me a Loser,” and “Holler (When You Call My Name).”

Halfway through the set, the singer stripped down several songs, performing with just his guitar — it was in these moments where the young artist displayed his nuanced and unique voice. These songs embodied an old-timey, slow-jamming sound. N’Gonda’s vocals were effortless, transitioning smoothly between belting high notes and upper, wispier tones in his head voice.

The set — lasting approximately 40 minutes total — had a nice continuity to it but could have stopped after the stripped-down series of tracks, however. The remainder of the set consisted of songs saturated with a heavy bass beat and rhythmic drums and guitar to back it up. Many of the songs ended up blending together due to predictable progressions and N’Gonda’s high-pitched vocals, which were always in tune but seldom dropped into his lower register.

Overall, Jalen N’Gonda’s slow jamming, soft rocking music created even more anticipation for the main act, visible in the now-antsy audience. When the first three ascending chords of “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts” resounded through The Sylvee, the crowd was ready, belting out the introductory lyrics with lead singer, Rachael Price.

Price leads the retro-soul band with deep, earthy vocals. In a sense, the band’s recordings, spanning all the way back to 2010, don’t do her voice nearly enough justice. The next song, “You Are Free,” allowed Price to take liberates with the already complex runs dispersed throughout the track, adding a new element to the already fun, fast-talking tune.

The band’s latest record, Free Yourself Up, comes with tighter and more polished songcraft than their previous albums while still astutely conjuring retro contentment, and this is obvious to onlookers of the group. Each member seemed to be genuinely enjoying their music, from Price’s vehement dancing to the instrumentalists digging into their solos.

The band proceeded right into one of their older numbers, “I Don’t Care About You.” Though not a lot of talking occurred between songs, not a lot of talking was necessary; the members let their music do the work, which was all that was needed. The audience was grooving right alongside them.

Lake Street’s set was complimented perfectly — one might even say majestically — by multicolored beams of light showering the stage, occasionally spotlighting performers in a pool of light, other times silhouetting them.

The entire band was highlighted on “Mistakes,” with lead guitarist Olson taking the lead on trumpet and haunting background vocals by the whole group. Price’s voice was featured exquisitely, especially during the song’s last chorus, demonstrating her natural ability and effortless control and strength.

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Drummer and songwriter Mike Calabrese stated that the band will be releasing an EP later this year, much to the audience’s delight. “We’re continuing the storyline of me and... dudes,” Calabrese said. They went on to perform a new song entitled “Daryl,” spelling of the name to be determined when the EP is released.

The song, written by Calabrese, showcased the rock n’ roll side of the group but felt more forced than those of the same style off their most recent record. The rhymes didn’t come off as natural (rhyming Daryl with feral and sterile) and not even Price’s powerhouse singing could save the lackluster chorus.

The night was quickly redeemed when Price brilliantly performed the slower ballad, “I Can Change,” breaking down her usual strength and moving into a much more vulnerable state, breaking the audience's hearts in the process.

Midway through the show, Price announced a surprise number from Akie Bermiss, the band’s most recent recruit on the keyboard for their most recent album and tour. When Bermiss started into Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” everyone seemed taken aback, myself included. However, his distinctive take on the single was unexpectedly brilliant, especially when Price added her harmonies to Bermiss’ Stevie Wonder-like runs.

Following, the lead singer took a rare several sentence break between songs to state that the band wrote the next number when they were feeling helpless about injustices happening across the country.

“We hope music can provide a little bit of inspiration for people to make the changes they want to see in the world,” she said. “We hope you do that when you vote very soon.”

What ensued was a timely dress-down of the men accused in the #MeToo movement in “Shame, Shame, Shame.” The song is powerful not in its intricacies — the funky-pop tune has relatively simple music and lyrics — but in the message itself. And it resonates now more than ever.

That’s one of Lake Street Dive’s strongest qualities: delivering soulful music that has a sense of importance. Sure, it can be silly at times, especially on top of their already vintage sound, but several songs — like “Shame, Shame, Shame,” Price’s emotional “Musta Been Something” and another retro ballad “Better Than” — make you listen, and occasionally shake you to the core. They demand to be heard, but they do so pleasantly.

The band took the stage for a two-song encore after ending the night with crowd-pleasers like, “Good Kisser” and “You Go Down Smooth.” The last song — perhaps the peak of the entire evening — was Lake Street’s own rendition of The Jackson 5 classic “I Want You Back.”

Those title words could be heard after the group had left the stage, undoubtedly audience members already begging for the terrific night of music to return.

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