I’ve stood 25 feet from Lake Street Dive kind of often. That’s not a brag; it’s like saying I’ve had a really good cannoli. Lots of people have done that in Boston.
Yet while I’m used to having the veteran pop group in front of me, I’m not used to having 3,500-plus people behind me in the process. The Boston-born quartet’s latest homecoming, played at the Wang Theatre on Friday night (October 7), provided just that.
Past occurrences have varied: at the 105-person capacity Lizard Lounge, the 525-person Sinclair, the 1,000-person Royale and even the 2,500-person House of Blues. Friday was a different animal, and everyone in attendance — including the four on stage who playfully reminisced about less-glamorous shows — was well-aware.
Certainly, this wasn’t the biggest stage the former New England Conservatory students, now in their 13th year as a band, have played. They’ve played Red Rocks and other notable venues as their crowds have grown with their popularity. Yet Friday was the largest headlining show they’ve played in Boston, and they didn’t need to be reminded of how far they’ve come.
“She was not a good waitress, but she was a great singer,” bassist Bridget Kearney said of singer Rachael Price between songs. Price added: “I was fired from five restaurants in Boston.”
The draw with Lake Street Dive is obvious. Think of Miles Teller’s character in Whiplash — a talented, driven music school student — but replace his arrogance with a genuine desire to collaborate, all while keeping all that talent and training. Now multiply that person by four, and you have Lake Street Dive.
To label each member, all of whom write, would be to undersell the other three. Kearney comes off as the brains of the operation, though that distinction could just as easily be applied to guitarist/trumpet player Mike Olson (writer of perhaps their most popular song in “You Go Down Smooth” and Friday night’s opener, “Godawful Things”), drummer Mike Calabrese (the Ulrich to Kearney’s Hetfield in a perfectly tight rhythm section and writer of some of their most fun songs in “Stop Your Crying” and “I Don’t Care About You”) or Price (“What I’m Doing Here,” “Mistakes”). Price may be the best vocalist in popular music today, but it’s still hard to determine any member is more valuable than the others.
Friday’s set saw LSD (use that initialism when Venmoing a friend for tickets at your own risk) play 21 songs dating back to 2010’s self-titled album through this year’s Side Pony, with a mix of covers sprinkled in. As could be expected with musicians of their caliber who’ve played together as long as they have, they’ve perfected their repertoire in such a way that their ability to toy with rhythm and tempo as a group borders on telepathy. And that doesn’t even factor in the incredibly tight harmonies of Kearney, Calabrese and, increasingly over the years, Olson.
Coming from a band rarely restricted to one genre, Friday’s set ran the gamut with everything from light and fun (“Side Pony,” “Saving All My Sinning”) to booming and brassy (a horn-heavy rendition of “Spectacular Failure” as part of a four-song run with openers Rubblebucket) to just plain showing off (their impeccable “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover, which closed the show). “Hell Yeah,” a song that, for better or worse, sounds like it could be on one of the Shrek soundtracks, provided an opportunity for the audience to lift its collective jaw from the floor and sing along.
The highlight, however, came late in the night when the group gathered around one condenser microphone for an acoustic rendition of “Rental Love.” The late-Beatles-esque ballad has been something of a live rarity since it was released in 2014, perhaps for arrangement purposes given that the album version is piano-based. The stripped-down version only served to further highlight Price’s vocal performance, one of her best in the group’s growing catalogue.
After Friday’s performance, the band packed up and drove to New York for a show at the 6,015-person Radio City Music Hall. From clubs to major venues, Lake Street Dive has gone from Boston’s best-kept-secret of sophisticated pop to an in-demand act around the world. From Price’s words, they don’t forget where they started.
“Boston,” she said with a smile. “This is our first home.”