Lake Street Dive returns to a sold-out Belly Up with a new member and new album
Special to the Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: An Evening with Lake Street Dive
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, July 6, 10 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
More info: bellyupaspen.com
For nearly all of Lake Street Dive’s 15-year history, the group stubbornly refused to bring on any additional musicians to help re-create some of the sounds the band had incorporated into the studio versions of its songs, but could not replicate live with just four band members on stage.
But that thinking went out the window (and onto the stage) in 2017 after the group gave performing with keyboardist Akie Bermiss a try. Guitarist/trumpet player Mike “McDuck” Olson, singer Rachel Price, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese found they got much more than a faithful representation of their songs with Bermiss in the fold.
“I think that our past selves’ sides would have denied up and down that we would ever have considered adding another member,” Olson acknowledged in a recent phone interview. “But we have whole-heartedly embraced Akie Bermiss as sort of the fifth member of the band as a keyboard player. Last year, he was on right around two-thirds of the show.
In the past, on a single song in concert, Olson might play guitar and sing then have to whistle a section of song and hop onto a mellotron to play a double part.
“That challenge was very exciting for a long time, and I think a natural thing for a group of people who attended a music conservatory,” he said.
(The band members met at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.)
“Music is supposed to be something of an athletic pursuit,” Olson added. “If you’re not sweating, are you really playing? That’s sort of the conservatory mindset.”
Freed from having to figure out which band member would have to play certain keyboard parts either in tandem with their regular instrument or in place of their instrument, Lake Street Dive found their overall sound enhanced with Bermiss handling keyboards. For Olson, it also allowed him to expand the role of guitar beyond being the primary melodic and tonal instrument in the group’s live sound.
“Basically, I’m the only thing defining the tonality of a song,” he said. “I’m the only thing with more than one note going at any time, so everybody is using me to tune to. So there are all these like checks on the list that I needed to do before I could even think about what I’m playing from a creative standpoint. But with Akie there … now we’re constructing these sort of very idiosyncratic key guitar parts that come from records that we know and love so much. Now we’re not fighting with the music, we’re dancing.”
In fact, the band members liked what Bermiss did so much in the shows, they brought him in to play throughout their latest album, “Free Yourself Up,” and were further delighted by the impact the keyboardist’s playing had on the Lake Street Dive sound.
“We found that we played a lot differently when there was a live piano player involved,” Olson said. “It’s exciting and it’s inspiring from a musical standpoint and I think the (live) show is elevated musically just from the kind of tasty musical elements that Akie contributes.”
“Free Yourself Up” still sounds very much like Lake Street Dive, but there are some significant new wrinkles in the music. The band has stretched out a bit stylistically, retaining the hooky pop melodies, good-time feel and the jazzy and soulful elements that have been laced through the group’s five previous studio albums.
But the sound is fuller and rocks a bit more. This is especially true of “Dude,” a standout funky track with a groove that’s matched by the catchy chorus. But other songs get extra jolts of energy, as well. On “Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts,” a riffy change of pace part adds some grit to the song while “You Are Free” gets some similar riffage to go with its buoyant melody. And Bermiss makes his presence felt throughout the album, for example, spicing up “Red Light Kisses” with what sounds like clavinet and B-3 organ and weaving in synthesizer in “Doesn’t Even Matter Now.”
Aspen audiences have had a front-row seat for the band’s evolution over the past five years. Since a summer 2014 debut at Belly Up, the hard-touring band has been back regularly as its sound — and its membership — has grown from its early days as a throwback soul outfit and YouTube sensation. Lake Street also wowed at Aspen’s biggest pop festival, the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, in 2017.
The band will return to Belly Up for a hotly anticipated, sold-out show Saturday.
Olson said the group is pleased enough with “Free Yourself Up” that a good chunk of the new material was getting included in the band’s live show as soon as the album was released in May 2018.
“(We were) showcasing a lot of new material right off of the bat, interspersed, obviously, liberally with more known material,” he said “But we’re lengthening the show, as well. So it’s going to be a little bit of a longer show, which will ensure that we can play as much of the new record as possible, but also make sure we play the hits, as it were.”
Andrew Travers contributed to this story.