The initials of Lake Street Dive may spell LSD, but the music of this Brooklyn-based quartet is no hallucination. It’s as real as it gets. Especially real was the energy on Sunday night as, one by one, the band took to the State Theatre stage. Drummer Mike Calabrese established a beat, standup bassist Bridget Kearney locked in a groove and guitarist Mike Olson laid down a few chords before singer Rachael Price ignited the room like a barbeque grill as she launched into “Rabid Animal.” This tune, one of a handful off the new album Bad Self Portraits, raised the bar high for any other indie acts set to grace these parts in the near future. With their engaging cocktail of soul, rock, and Beatles-esque backbone, LSD brought professionalism to every twist and turn of an 18-song rollercoaster.
As was obvious to anyone there, Price is a natural born performer and by the seventh song (the addictive “Use Me Up”) had the audience on its feet and in the palm of her hand. Combining the follow-through of Amy Winehouse and the rasp of Betty Carter, her voice was sensual, hip and confident to the last drop. No small feat, considering that much of the Portraits material deals with themes of regret, surrender and, perhaps most of all, self-abdication. Whether in the title cut or the bittersweet “Seventeen,” the band’s suave rhythmic sensibilities — anchored by Kearney’s rooted bass lines — and lucid harmonies maintained a spirit of underlying propulsion even in the slowest numbers. Ballads as such were few and far between, and included the soulful spotlight that was “Just Ask.”
In spite of their all-around proficiency, LSD expressed little interest in instrumental soloing. Rather, they focused on maintaining a consistent sound that made even the less successful tunes shine with spirit. Of the latter, “Neighbor Song” was the only real expendable. This depressing tale of a lonely girl who laments her bachelorette-hood while listening to her neighbors make love upstairs quickly wore thin and, with each repetition of the chorus, felt just a bit uncomfortable. Then again, so did its protagonist. In any case, by the last song we were fully refreshed and enlivened by LSD’s stellar vibes. They have hit upon a special combination.
As rich it was, the concert might have felt incomplete without its opening act: Signature Sounds label mate Heather Maloney. Armed only with a guitar and a voice from on high, the New Jersey native — now based in Northampton, Massachusetts — was a study in contrasts. Her unique, sometimes-quirky songwriting concerned itself one moment with simple pleasures (“Nightstand Drawer”), morphing the next into an ode to pathos (“Dirt and Stardust,” a fan favorite). With delicate restraint at her fingertips, she told stories of old friendships (“Hey, Serena”) and, in the evocative “1855,” of an immeasurable love captured in a single photograph. In this song her playing was most alive, like ocean waves lapping over one another before a storm.
Despite tempting comparisons to coffee house queens Aimee Mann or Ani DiFranco, Maloney’s closest analogue is perhaps Joni Mitchell, a point confirmed by her heavenly version of the chanteuse’s classic “Woodstock.” Even more remarkable was her closer, “No Shortcuts.” Hearing this Motown-inflected anthem emanating powerfully from her petite frame to the sole accompaniment of the audience’s stomping and clapping left us fully primed for the sunbursts that followed. Like a good novelist, she followed her voice and thoughts to their logical endpoints, leaving us nonetheless wanting more.
(See this article as it originally appeared in The Cornell Daily Sun.)