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Free eclectricity

BY REBECCA KOONS | AUGUST 20, 2009 7:05 AM

If there is one band that knows the definition of “evolution,” it is Lake Street Dive. The band started its musical journey on a very different path from where it ended up, but it seems to have found its own eclectic niche.

The Boston-based quartet will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. Admission is $10.

Lake Street Dive began as founder and guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson’s concept of a “free country band.” Drummer Mike Calabrese said that meant playing country music in an “avant-garde, jazz-influenced fashion.”

After an initial abundance of songwriting, the band’s activity level fizzled out, Calabrese said.

Eventually, a demo of one of bassist Bridget Kearney’s songs — “Sometimes When I’m Drunk and You’re Wearing My Favorite Shirt” — won the grand prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition. The band then took those winnings to fund an album and a tour, Calabrese said.

That album, … In This Episode, portrays the band’s enthusiasm for experimenting and making the most of its four talents — Olson, Calabrese, Kearney (an Iowa City native), and vocalist Rachael Price. Lake Street Dive’s latest release, Promises Promises, follows a similar vein. In one instance, Kearney recalls, she presented the song “Hello Goodbye” to the band, which was reworked from a country song to a Motown-influenced track.

“We all have different writing styles and habits as individuals, but in general, I think we all share the goal of writing songs that the band will sound great playing,” Kearney said.

These different styles undoubtedly come as the result of each member’s musical influences. For Calabrese, inspiration has come from the Beatles and Harry Nilsson, as well as soul and jazz.

Recognizing these influences and working with them have paid off for Lake Street Dive, and the members have become more in tune with each other, creatively speaking.

“All of our influences are oozing with personality, feel, struggle, innovation, and … pop-music sensibilities,” Calabrese said. “We know each other well enough to add the right thing to the ensemble.”

The members of Lake Street Dive take great care in honing their craft in the studio, and that allows them to continually improve their live performances. The musicians pride themselves on their ability to put audiences at ease, and they also work to make the show an exciting, enjoyable experience.

“I think they can see how genuine it is,” Calabrese said. “There’s no one who can say we’re trying to be something we’re not.”

Performing at the Englert will provide a warm homecoming for Kearney, having grown up in Iowa City. She delights in performing in Iowa, especially because she gets the chance to show off her hometown and home state.

“Audiences in Iowa are extremely smart and extremely appreciative,” she said.

Though they don’t know what the future holds, it can certainly be said that the members of Lake Street Dive are dogged in their pursuit of finding new ways to approach music. With an album in the works that Calabrese says is “completely new” — relative to what the group has done before — the band has a running start.


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