The “holy shit” moment of Rachael Price’s set Sunday night (December 4) at Oberon wasn’t brought on by any specific song or note sung by the Lake Street Dive frontwoman, even though her scatting provided plenty of contenders. It didn’t come during performing partner Vilray’s incredible whistling at various points of the jazz set. It didn’t even come when the two set a song to a scene from 1947 Disney short Bongo.
It was the realization that the show was just a few songs old, and that Lake Street Dive bandmates Mike Calabrese (drums) and Bridget Kearney (bass) were still set to step in front of the microphone for their own sets as part of the group’s one-night-only “Side Project” show, a play on the New England Conservatory-born group’s Side Pony EP.
And by the time Price and Vilray finished putting on what was nothing short of a clinic, Calabrese and Kearney turned in equally interesting sets without their bandmates alongside. The group’s fourth member, guitarist and trumpet player Mike “McDuck” Olson, was given the night off to tend to his recently born child, though Kearney led the crowd in a Mighty Ducks style “quack” chant to keep him there in spirit.
The show was a mixture of originals, covers and Lake Street Dive songs that may not have seen the proper light of day. The singular musical highlight saw a guitar-weilding Kearney, accompanied by Robin MacMillan on bass and a drum machine, perform the somehow-not-on-an-album “Love Doctor.” Though performed by the band for a bit following the release of 2014’s Bad Self Portraits, “Love Doctor” surprisingly missed the cut for Side Pony and had fallen by the wayside before Kearney brought it out Sunday night. It was the second of what by my count were four Lake Street Dive songs played on the night; earlier, Calabrese had closed his set with “As Much as I Do,” which he introduced by noting fans couldn’t track down a recording of the song if they tried.
Though Kearney spent much of her set playing guitar and singing, she moved to the piano for a chilling arrangement of the group’s “So Long.” She was joined to end her set by all of the night’s performers, including Price singing backup while Calabrese played bass.
As was to be expected, Price’s set was the most proficient because few people on the planet are as good at anything as Price is at singing. Standing around one mic, she frequently gave way to Vilray, who was certainly capable of stealing moments of the show with his crooning, guitar playing and aforementioned whistling. The Brooklyn-based Vilray often sang melodies with Price harmonizing, one of many indications that the two were clearly peers and that he was no hired hand.
Calabrese’s set went in and out of Lennon-like vocals, Yorke-esque compositions and, as should not have been surprising, general silliness. His set was the most anticipated on this end, as his writing contributions have seen him channel a vast spectrum of artists, from Bill Withers (“Miss Disregard”) to The Shirelles (“Stop Your Crying”) to Wings (“I Don’t Care About You”).
The duo of he and local guitarist Lyle Brewer — they called themselves Baby Uncle — included a staged argument in the audience by horn-playing friends and a cover of Larry Graham slowjam “One in a Million You,” complete with a disco ball and a reminder from Calabrese that embracing cheesiness is, literally, healthy. Calabrese, who earlier this year happened to have planned a Ziggy Stardust performance at Lizard Lounge for just days after David Bowie would eventually die, further paid tribute to his hero with a song he penned called “You Will Be Reborn.”
In addition to her reworkings of Lake Street Dive songs, Kearney impressed with other originals from her upcoming 2017 solo release. One of the songs told a similar story to the episode of Friends in which Rachel dreams she had sex with Chandler, though Kearney introduced it a bit more eloquently.
When the band members grabbed their usual instruments for an encore performance of 2011 deep cut “My Speed,” it was still something of a strange sight. Calabrese’s kit was in the back, as opposed to its familiar spot to Price’s left. Kearney, usually over Price’s left shoulder on her upright bass, was stage right plucking an electric bass. In place of the charmingly stoic Olsen was an animated Brewer. It was bizarro Lake Street Dive, and it was excellent.
“Side project” is a term that naturally gives fans pause, but the way the band executed the evening shouldn’t have. They played to their strengths, showed off when it called for it and snuck in a shenanigan or two. Really, that sounds like a Lake Street Dive show anyway.
Photos by DJ Bean. Follow him on Twitter @DJ_Bean.