The song “Good Kisser” by Lake Street Dive starts off mellow enough. “If you’re gonna tell them everything, tell them I’m a good kisser,” Rachael Price croons. “Tell ’em all the things you told me in your desperate whisper.”
Mere seconds later, front woman Price is belting it out as if her life depends on turning her somewhat forward request into an outright command. “Tell them I’m a good kisser!” she wails on the chorus of the second track of the band’s 2018 album Free Yourself Up (Nonesuch Records). If you’re watching her live, chances are you can’t take your eyes off of her or register anything but her deep, rich voice.
Some would call Price sexy, but the word doesn’t quite do justice to all that she brings to the microphone. “It’s not an overt sex appeal,” said Jamie Lenfestey, director of operations in Santa Fe and Taos for AMP Concerts. “It’s the timbre of her voice. She’s one of the great singers in America right now.”
AMP coordinated the 4th of July Music Weekend Getaway in Taos’ Kit Carson Park, where Lake Street Dive plays on Friday, July 5. The band is part of a multi-day lineup that kicked off with WAR and Ozomatli on July 4 and finishes on Saturday, July 6, with The Mavericks and Los Lobos.
“I like to call her our not-so-secret weapon,” said Mike “McDuck” Olson, who plays trumpet and guitar in the five-member band with roots in jazz and Motown. “Rachael is the reason we are where we are, but she’s also the front woman. So, it’s not a secret. She’s an incredible interpreter of songs and has a deep well of emotion. In some ways, her voice is a crutch for me because I know that I can write something stupid, like ‘Side Pony,’ and that if she sings it, it doesn’t sound so dumb.”
“Side Pony,” from Lake Street Dive’s 2016 album of the same name, is a ditty about wearing a sassy hairstyle that plays as a surprisingly non-silly self-empowerment anthem. Many Lake Street Dive songs contain this sort of whimsy or even outright humor — set to the expert musicianship of the conservatory-trained band. In “Dude,” from Free Yourself Up, Price sings a few absurdist lyrics as she prepares to ask a male friend-with-benefits if he’d like her better if she were a guy.
Now we don’t seem to talk anymore
We used to kick it like Joe and Obama
Now you just leave me at home playin’ mama
You give your friends all your time
The band is known for its original material as well as for covering a wide range of songs, from “Love Shack” (1989) by the B52s and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (1975) to “Rich Girl” (1977) by Hall & Oates and “Take on Me” (1985) by A-ha. Numerous YouTube videos of their cover songs, as well as live shows, reveal a band that always seems to be having a good time onstage, a group happy to ham it up if it serves the needs of the performance, or just because it’s fun to let loose with longtime friends and bandmates.
Olson and Price met at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where they formed Lake Street Dive in 2004 with upright bass player Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese. Keyboardist Akie Bermiss joined the band in 2017. Kearney, Olson, and Calabrese have historically done most of the songwriting, and now Bermiss has joined that process as well. “We write to Rachael’s strengths,” Olson said. “We can talk to her and tell her what we’re trying to say. We know when something clicks for her and can hear it right away.”
Until Side Pony, Lake Street Dive was embraced as a live band and internet sensation. They’d had some commercial success with the EP Fun Machine in 2012 and their fourth studio album, Bad Self Portraits, in 2014. Side Pony was a breakthrough full of groovy, high-energy, danceable tunes that felt like a respite from the growing political strife in the world. Free Yourself Up is a somewhat more serious album, with a few slower songs and lyrics that point toward social consciousness. Price earned a songwriting credit on the album for “I Can Change,” which she wrote with Kearney about the potential for transforming one’s perspective.
Tracin’ an old pattern
Drawing the lines from where I am and from where
I wanna be
Forget that old adage
That history continues to keep us from a world we
I am scared that I won’t get it right
But fear won’t rule my heart tonight
If Free Yourself Up sounds different from previous offerings, Olson said, it’s because the band members are getting older, starting families of their own, and beginning to look at life a little differently. But more to the point, this slightly thinkier version of Lake Street Dive was always in there. “There was a push during the Side Pony [recording] sessions to sort of — I’m going to use the phrase dumb down, but that has such negative connotations.”
Some of the album’s sillier songs were written after the producer told them to write some “ear candy.” Although the band loves those songs — and are thrilled when fans request them at shows — they decided to produce Free Yourself Up on their own.
“The title Free Yourself Up is kind of a misnomer, like the vibe should be chill-out, cool-it-man,” Olson said. “But it’s more like we felt that we’d gotten to a point in our career where we could be more serious, more engaged, and more involved in the process of making the record.”
There has been minor pushback, with less-than-glowing reviews from outlets like Rolling Stone, and the band has gotten some contentious reactions online. “On occasion we get that ‘stay in your lane’ vibe. People say, ‘you’re here to entertain us, not to lecture us.’ But if we are evolving as humans, we are evolving as musicians,” Olson said. “The hope is that our fans care enough about the journey that we’re all on together to continue to enjoy music that’s made by us from a place of honesty and a place of inward and outward reflection.” ◀
▼ Taos Picnic in the Park Concerts
▼ Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
▼ Lake Street Dive with Jake Shimabukuro and Beat Root Revival
5:30 p.m. Friday, July 5; gates open at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $27 at tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/337102
▼ The Mavericks and Los Lobos with Max Gomez
6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 6; gates open at 5 p.m.
Tickets are $49 at tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/334885
▼ Free for children 12 and under. Tickets for both concerts are $59
at 505-886-1251 and holdmyticket.com/event/337198