“I don’t really know what we’ve been doing all this time, not coming to Hoboken,” said Rachael Price, the lead singer of Lake Street Dive, to an audience of about 200 last Thursday night.
The Maxwell’s crowd had already expressed its adoration of Price’s Aretha-esque voice between covers of The Jackson 5 and George Michael, but they cheered raucously at the mention of the mile-square city. Funny thing, though – many weren’t local. Some, like Lake Street Dive, had never even been to Hoboken.
“We’re actually from Vermont,” said Chris Pike. “My wife found the band online, and just had to see them, so we came down. We have family here, so it was a good excuse to visit, too.”
Pike said he’d been to Hoboken before, but others said it was their first time.
“It’s way different that what I thought it would be,” said Doug Crisona. “I totally pre-judged it, coming from Brooklyn, but it’s an awesome place.”
But the newcomers’ opinions of Maxwell’s, a legendary restaurant/concert venue on Washington Street, were unsurprising. After all, it has hosted such acts as Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“I think it’s awesome here, and they’ve got a great sandwich,” said Nate Taylor, who came from Queens.
Lake Street’s support for the evening, Miss Tess and the Talkbox, boasted a drummer from nearby Secaucus, and Larry Cook, a bassist, said that he’d educated the group about Maxwell’s.
“It feels sort of important to step in here and play in a place that’s already got some history.” - Larry Cook
“Playing here is great,” said Cook. “It feels sort of important to step in here and play in a place that’s already got some history.”
Members of Lake Street also had good things to say as they prepared for the show last week. Drummer Michael Calabrese recalled that growing up, “Hoboken was just an exit off the Turnpike,” but that once he heard of Maxwell’s, he didn’t stop hearing about it.
“It’s one of those things, when someone mentions it and all of a sudden it’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s more on the divey side, less commercial I guess, and that’s right up our alley.”
Lake Street’s drive
Lake Street Dive, which in addition to Price and Calabrese consists of upright bassist Bridget Kearney and “trumpet-wielding guitarist” Mike Olson, came together as a college jazz band at the New England Conservatory in Boston. On their first two albums, “In This Episode...” (2007) and “Promises, Promises” (2008), they played sans guitar, and Calabrese didn’t use a full drum set.
“Initially we liked it a lot, but the first few years we sounded pretty weird, as most college jazz bands do,” said Price. “Then when we graduated, we realized we liked all the same pop music from the same eras, so we started writing stuff in that vein.”
After signing with Signature Records, the band released the self-titled “Lake Street Dive” in 2011, marking the debut of their current sound. Price and Kearney’s harmonies are powerful, Olsen’s electric guitar takes on a more prominent role, and Calabrese holds nothing back on the drums.
Recently, they released “Fun Machine,” an EP of five cover songs and one original. Born out of chunks of their live repertoire, like The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Ben E. King and the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment.”
“We were playing bar gigs continuously, so we started putting cover songs in the sets because it was a way to draw people in,” said Price.
But each cover on the record is unique from the original. Most of “Fun Machine’s” tracks, known for their complex and energetic arrangements, are stripped down and ethereal.
“We have a sort of strange instrumentation setup, so that dictates what we cover,” said Price. “Basically we looked for stuff with a strong bass line, strong melodies. Recognizable things.”
“I Want You Back,” is a perfect example. With Olsen foregoing his guitar for the trumpet, Kearney’s bass line leads the song while the slower tempo allows Price to show her range. The result is what you might expect if that song had been written not for the Jacksons, but for, say, Ella Fitzgerald.
They’ll be back
Before returning to the stage for an encore of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” Price declared that Lake Street Dive would return to Hoboken sooner or later. It could be assumed from the crowd’s reaction that they, many of whom traveled a fair amount to get here, would be back too.
“This is my first time here, but it won’t be my last,” said Bedre Montgomery-Nassif, who is from Massachusetts but works in Weehawken. “If this is any indication of what the rest of the town has to offer, I think it’s great.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org