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Lake Street Dive breaks big and Bad

Band leaps from dive bars to a national stage


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Just before releasing its latest set of swinging soul gems, Bad Self Portraits, earlier this month, Lake Street Dive scored an impressive trifecta. European audiences embraced the combo enthusiastically on its first overseas tour.

LSD stole the spotlight from heavy hitters like Patti Smith and Joan Baez at Another Day, Another Time, a live New York City gig that featured music from the Coen Brothers' film, Inside Llewyn Davis. As icing on the cake, the Brooklyn- and Boston-based quartet killed the Comedy Central crowd with their funky Motown-meets-rockabilly rave-up "You Go Down Smooth" on The Colbert Report.

It's a big leap from a Brighton, Mass., sidewalk a year ago, when the brassy, sassy combo tore into an acoustic soul cover of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back," which showcased Bridget Kearney's nimble upright bass, Mike Calabrese's precise percussion, Mike Olson's Big Easy brass and frontwoman Rachael Price's stirring, Etta James-inspired vocals.

When the YouTube video of that performance went viral, netting more than 1 million views, no one was more surprised than the band, who will perform at the Neighborhood Theatre on Feb. 27.

"YouTube virality felt like a myth that only happened to cat videos," says guitarist/brass-man Olson. "We never expected that this would propel us into the public sphere."

The band came together 10 years ago at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, when Kearney met Price in a mandatory drumming class. Rachael was "a terrible drummer, but a terrific musician. I knew I wanted to be in a band with her as soon as I heard her sing," says Kearney.

"I started singing jazz when I was 5 years old and performing when I was 11," says Price. She initially envisioned a contemporary jazz career along the lines of Diana Krall's, but changed her focus to LSD's free-and-easy mash-up of soul, Beatles-esque melodies, stirring harmonies and Steely Dan cool.

"I stopped doing jazz full time and let my career take me where it wanted to go," Price adds. "I feel like I'm using all the versatility I learned from jazz and putting it into this entirely unique sound."

Based on Price's training, many call LSD's signature sound jazz, but not Olson. "We don't play jazz solos and we don't use jazz harmonic structures," says Olson. "People just 'hear' jazz with their eyes when they see the trumpet and upright bass. We skew far more heavily into pop and soul. We play as funky as possible, and the goal has always been to have our fans dance and sing along."

Though Price's soaring, soulful vocals embrace heartbreak on Bad Self Portraits, LSD unerringly nails a swinging sense of fun into a tight and funky pocket. Perhaps it all goes back to the origins of the band's quirky moniker.

Lake Street Dive is named after a thoroughfare in Olson's native Minneapolis that is lined with sleazy juke joints.

"We always wanted to be the kind of band who's at home playing in dive bars, as opposed to the hallowed halls of a music conservatory," Olson says of the four long-time friends on the cusp of breaking big. "It turns out, we've done both."


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