Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney doesn’t mind the idea that the band’s live shows sometimes seem like they could run off the rails at any point. It’s one reason the four-person group has never added musicians to its touring lineup, even though it’s sometimes challenging to cover some of the instrumental parts from the studio recordings of the songs.
“Being basically three instrumentalists, it forces us to, each one of us, like (drummer) Mike Calabrese will sometimes be shaking a tambourine at the same time as like using all three of his other limbs to play the drums as well as singing a background harmony at the same time,” Kearney said in a recent phone interview. “It’s kind of almost a thing where you’re watching someone just like almost fall off the cliff and they just make it. It’s exciting in that way.”
Staying a four-piece live act also meets another goal — giving audiences something different from what they hear on Lake Street Dive’s albums.
“As a listener, I really love going to live shows where the performances are different from the record,” Kearney said. “So that’s one thing that touring as a quartet allows us to do, is differentiate it from the studio versions of the songs.”
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The willingness to take risks doesn’t just show up in Lake Street Dive’s concerts. It was also a characteristic the Boston-based band embraced in making its current studio album, “Side Pony.”
After spending the first eight-plus years of their career essentially in obscurity, Lake Street Dive started getting national attention in 2013 when a video of the group doing an acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” became a YouTube hit.
By the time the group’s fourth album, “Bad Self Portraits,” was released to stirring reviews, Lake Street Dive was being touted by a number of high-profile media outlets (such as Rolling Stone magazine) as one of music’s best new bands.
Two-plus years of touring surrounding “Bad Self Portraits” only amplified the buzz and Lake Street Dive gained a sizeable audience. In June, the group appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
The attention created something the group had never encountered — expectations for its next album.
This is where the group’s willingness to take risks helped combat the pressure to overcome the so-called “sophomore slump.” And Lake Street Dive took plenty of chances with “Side Pony,” beginning with putting no stylistic limits on the music they were creating.
“I think that’s part of what made us successful in the first place, was just like being open-minded to including a lot of different elements into our music and kind of trying new things, learning what we are good at through a process of trial and error,” Kearney said.
Another risk was working with a new producer in Dave Cobb, who challenged the band, which includes Kearney, Calabrese, singer Rachael Price and trumpet player/guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, in a number of ways.
First and foremost, Cobb changed the group’s songwriting methods. In the past, the band members wrote individually and usually made pretty complete demos with most of the instrumentation in place before presenting the songs to their bandmates. Often recording was a question of the four band members replicating the demos.
For “Side Pony,” Cobb had the group members bring their songs in when they were still at an early, skeletal stage.
“It was definitely scary,” Kearney said. “It’s really challenging to open yourself up and be vulnerable with your creativity, like throw out ideas that aren’t finished and you know need work.”
But Kearney said this songwriting experiment was good for the band on several levels, beginning with forcing the four band members to be more collaborative in the writing and arranging of songs and helping them to better identify and use their individual strengths as songwriters.
Fans can expect Lake Street Dive to showcase a good number of the new songs on tour this summer, while retaining a long-standing trademark of its concerts.
“We’re playing a lot of stuff from (‘Side Pony’),” Kearney said. “And then we’ve got some of the old standbys from ‘Bad Self Portraits,’ kind of like some fan favorites of those. We also, as always, like to incorporate some covers into our set just as a way of inviting in some listeners that may be new to our sound.”