Lake Street Dive is in a longterm relationship with Portland that dates back to 2010 when they first started playing at One Longfellow Square. All told, they played in that intimate room four times between 2010 and 2012, before leap-frogging in 2014 to the much larger Port City Music Hall, then the even bigger State Theatre and Thompson’s Point, where they’ll play a nearly sold-out show Saturday night.
Apparently, they’re almost as excited as we are. Singer Rachael Price told me in an interview a couple weeks ago that Portland is on the band’s top three list of favorite cities to play in.
Lake Street Dive’s trajectory is impressive and can be attributed to a unique, infectious sound that is the sum of five very capable parts, including sensational vocalist Price. The rest of the band is Mike “McDuck” Olson on guitar, trumpet and vocals; Bridget Kearney on stand-up bass and vocals; Mike Calabrese on drums and vocals; and Akie Bermiss on keyboards and vocals. Their sound can’t be boxed into any specific genre, but it often has a retro feel to it with many shades of jazz, rock, pop and blues.
This arguably has been the band’s biggest year yet, thanks to the new album, “Free Yourself Up,” which was released in May. Fans and critics alike are eating it up, and as someone who wears both hats, I’m doing the same. I think it’s brilliant and funky, and is a natural progression of their sound, which was recently enhanced with the addition of keys player Bermiss. The writing was on the wall that “Free Yourself Up” was going to elevate this band’s already stellar profile when the first single, “Good Kisser,” was released. The tune’s a bouncy, radio-ready romp with a whopping refrain.
“Free Yourself Up” is the band’s first self-produced album, and Price looks back on that experience fondly.
“It was a creative leap for us, and it was an experiment in doing everything ourselves. We were a little scared to do it, and we feel really proud of the record.” Price also said that the biggest takeaway from self-producing was learning that not only were they up to the task, it was a fulfilling and exciting process for them to be in control. “We took turns being in the driver’s seat, and that was such an illuminating experience because, of course, no one knows our capacities as performers better than us because we have spent 14 years watching each other grow.”
The second single from “Free Yourself Up” is the slow and tender ballad “I Can Change.” Kearney has said the song came from watching the news last year and seeing people trapped in cycles of hate that humanity couldn’t seem to find its way out of. The song is about summoning the courage to understand our own weaknesses and biases and prejudices, and learning to do better. Price added to this sentiment: “It’s a pretty open-ended song in the sense that it’s about inner change and seeing what you want to see changed in the world and realizing that you can be part of that. It just sort of made us realize that people all have their own experiences, which is the beauty of art, and the beauty of our song is that it can speak to your individual specific circumstances, and obviously we didn’t know that when we wrote it, but still that’s the hope.”
Another song from the new album that I’m focused on at the moment is “Shame, Shame, Shame,” which expresses outrage for the state of the world but does it in a musically upbeat way that makes you snap your fingers and sing along but also think about the lyrics. “No, I’m not getting caught in your little spiderweb/Won’t let an angry dog get me down/Don’t you think it’s time we put this dog out of his misery?” asks the song. But then it becomes something else, a ’60s-ish hopeful anthem with the repeated refrain of “Change is comin’, oh yeah/Ain’t no runnin’/Change is comin’, oh yeah.”
I can’t wait to hear this one live because I want to know what it sounds like with 5,000-plus voices singing right along with it. Price said the song is about injustice and about seeing injustice in the world. “It’s about it making you angry, it’s about seeing people in positions of power that are committing these injustices and people that are committing injustices in the world with their power will fade. Goodness can prevail.”
7 p.m. Saturday, July 7. Thompson’s Point, Portland, $44.25. statetheatreportland.com