Last night I took my sister to see Lake Street Dive at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom for her last night in town. Amazingly we had never seen a show together and this was a great one to start with.
First, the opener: The Congress. All I knew coming in was that they did some covers of 60s and 70s soul songs on a recent release. I did not expect the Black Crowes-esque southern jam-band rock that they threw down from the very beginning of their set. At different points I was thinking “Wow, Boston” “Wow, Atlanta Rhythm Section” “Phish?” “Perpetual Groove?” Their guitarist is a shredding wizard, and their vocalist has serious chops. They didn’t do any of the soul stuff until their next to last song, which was “Killing Me Softly With His Words” (which brought down the house). Altogether they brought way more energy than I was expecting and I would have listened longer. Also, their drummer appears to be the happiest guy on the planet.
Then, after what felt like a longer-than-usual wait, around 9:45 out came Rachael Price and Lake Street Dive. Just like when I saw them open for Josh Ritter this time last year, Rachael’s sassy presence filled up the entire ballroom, but her personality didn’t dominate the stage. Each member of the band holds his or her own weight quite well – female vocalist, female upright bass, male trumpeter/guitarist, and male drummer. They do a straight-forward Motown/Americana blend with the camaraderie and give and take between band members that you have in a good jazz quartet.
The set started simple and relatively quiet – reeling us in before the bombastic stuff. I don’t remember the first song, but I remember the good vibes that washed over the whole room as Rachael started to sing and the band came in behind her. The second song was the title track off the brand new record “Bad Self Portraits.” (Opening line: “I bought this camera to take pictures of my love / Now that he’s gone I don’t have anybody to take pictures of” – that subtle rhyme made me happy). After that came “Clear a Space” which absolutely sounds like it must have been on the Remember the Titans soundtrack for the late 60s motown goodness.
From there the set picked up steam and charged forward for a full 90 minutes plus, with no covers that I can remember – interesting since the band got their start covering “I Want You Back” on a Boston sidewalk, and even last year at the Crystal they did George Michael’s “Faith” and Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” in addition to the Jackson 5 classic. But last night would be their third Portland show since last March, so they probably (rightly) assume that by this point we would rather hear their own stuff.
The highlights of the set for me were “Neighbors’ Song” on which Rachael’s voice came through clean and earnest, “Seventeen,” the song which, at the Crystal, converted me from polite spectator into adoring fan, “Hello! Goodbye?” with the devastating lyrics “It feels good to be over you / but it felt good to be under you / so maybe it’s just you that feels good” and the energetic set closer “You Go Down Smooth.” Somewhere toward the end of the main set they brought the Congress back onto the stage for a “double band” feature. They came back again for the encore (a soul standard whose name escapes me) which brought the audience to a roar.
Rachael’s parting words were “As you know it’s not always easy to be a touring band, but tonight, you made it easy.”
Thank you Rachael, and thank you Lake Street Dive. We’ll make it easy for you every time you come through.