JPR Live Session: Lake Street Dive

Dec 4, 2015

The members of Lake Street Dive - named after an avenue of seedy bars in Olson's native Minneapolis - met in 2004 as students at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Powerhouse singer Rachael Price fronted the quartet and drummer Michael Calabrese filled out the rhythm section.

Though they were all studying jazz, Lake Street Dive's work together took an altogether different shape, informed by their love of classic pop, particularly from the '60s, when pop could mean the Beatles, the Supremes, Dusty Springfield, or the Beach Boys. They recognized the virtuosity—and timelessness—in the efforts of studio musicians like Muscle Shoals' legendary Swampers and L.A.'s Wrecking Crew. Similarly, their original repertoire combined musical sophistication with an easy going groove.

For several years, the group was a part-time proposition, with everyone living in different cities. (Calabrese and Olson eventually returned to Boston, while Price and Kearney migrated to Brooklyn.) In 2012, Lake Street Dive became a full-time combo after a YouTube video of the quartet acoustically performing the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" on a suburban Boston street corner went viral. The arrangement was slowed-down and torchy, a little melancholic, more late-night New Orleans jazz than AM radio pop, and upwards of three million people were enchanted by it.

Producer T Bone Burnett, as impressed as everyone else, invited Lake Street Dive to perform on the 2013 Another Day, Another Time concert event he curated at New York City's Town Hall to celebrate the Coen brothers' folk revival-themed movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. Lake Street Dive made the most of its one-song slot, with its performance of the Olson-penned "You Go Down Smooth," garnering morning-after acclaim from the New Yorker, the Daily News, and the New York Times. The band looked striking too, like a retro lounge band that could have sprung from the surreal imagination of David Lynch. That star-making moment has been preserved on the Nonesuch soundtrack to Showtime's documentary of the concert.