Academia and a deep appreciation of jazz brought together the four members of Lake Street Dive. A love of pop music inspired them to start a band and create a sound that bridges the difference between the two.
Friday night, the four alumni of the New England Conservatory of Music performed before a crowd of more than 1,100 at the Uptown Theatre, and for more than 90 minutes they paid respects to a small commonwealth of sounds and inspirations: soul, R&B, pop, jazz and doo-wop among them.
The quartet is led by lead singer Rachael Price, whose voice bears more than a slight resemblance to Bonnie Raitt’s. It’s an evocative instrument, a combination of power, nuance and agility and one that handles with ease whatever feats and maneuvers the song requires.
She was backed by Mike Olson on trumpet and guitar, Bridget Kearney on upright bass and Mike Calabrese on drums – a trio that issued an abundance of moods and coated Price’s vocals with some elite and precise harmonies all night.
Lake Street Dive is touring off its latest album, “Side Pony,” a nickname for a hairstyle (a ponytail, which Kearney modeled) and slang for a pleasant diversion, which fits the band’s music. It’s all melodic and groovy, uptown pop and soul filled with shifts in time and tempo and enough gentle twists and turns to keep things interesting.
The crowd seemed to be familiar with most of the set list, which drew heavily from “Side Pony” and its predecessor, “Bad Self Portrait.” The lyrics typically address relationships and their many stages of bliss, dysfunction and disarray. The song “Bad Self Portrait” generated one of the loudest sing-alongs, though it’s about a woman getting over a breakup: “I’m taking landscapes / I’m taking still lifes / I’m taking bad self-portraits / Of a lonely woman.”
Other highlights: “Got Me Fooled,” a song about a woman who wants to be romanced by a guy who wants “just one thing” (“Why don’t you take me dancing Saturday / With some drinks in the barroom / Or maybe we could stay home instead / With some tapes and some Thai food”); the soulful and rocking “Hell Yeah,” which packed a Pointer Sisters vibe; “Save All My Sinning,” a soul-pop tune that sounded issued from the early 1970s; “Close to Me,” a lovely soul-blues ballad; and “Mistakes,” which included a trumpet intro that brought Chuck Mangione to mind.
They played two covers: Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which closed the show and generated the liveliest sing-along of the night.
Before that, though, they gathered around a lone microphone and delivered a gorgeous, stripped-down version of “What I’m Doing Here,” a torch ballad about lust and love and an unquenched heart sent into a theater as hushed as an empty cathedral. The harmonies were spine-tingling -- the warm, organic fusion of four varied talents with a concerted affection: for music that provokes and entertains.
Godawful Things; I Don’t Care About You; Side Pony; Stop Your Crying; Clear a Space; Better Than; Hell Yeah; Save All My Sinning; Spectacular Failure; Close to Me; When You Were Mine; Mistakes; Got Me Fooled; drum solo; Elijah; So Long; You Go Down Smooth; Bad Self Portraits; Seventeen; Call Off Your Dogs; What I’m Doing Here; Bohemian Rhapsody.