Friday, February 17, 2017

Lake Street Dive Back in College

We somehow found out that Lake Street Dive would be the featured band at New England Conservatory's 150th concert and tickets were about to go on sale ... so we got some, first row of the balcony at Jordan Hall!  This show sold out fast.  The band met at NEC and are all grads and, though we knew there might be some amateurism on display in the concert, we suspected it might be fantastic.  We'd seen "amateur" concerts at some fine music schools like Berklee College of Music and Ithaca College, and they'd been vastly entertaining.  As it turned out, this concert was stellar and the number of fine, young musicians we saw (including LSD of course) was enough to make you think that maybe the world is not doomed after all.

Had a fun drive into Boston after work on Thursday 2/16: in Soldiers Field Road to the Bowker Interchange exit, between the great stone pillars at the intersection of Westland and Hemenway (which used to be one of the best places in the city (supposedly) to find prostitutes), right onto Mass Ave in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in Boston, Horticultural Hall, past Symphony Hall (and spewing busses) on my right, and then right onto St. Botolph (whom Boston was named after), past the current Matthews Arena (the old Boston Arena which predates the (original) Boston Garden), and left on Gainsborough into the parking garage.  I hadn't been in this area of the city for a long time.

Sarah and Dave were just getting off the Green Line and we met at the Pizzeria Uno on Huntington.  It was the Day Without Immigrants in Boston, one of the latest Trump protests, but the restaurant was not busy at that time and we got some over-attentive white guys to bring us beer and food.  After a relatively quick meal we stopped at the car and then entered beautiful Jordan Hall, the concert space of the New England Conservatory with practice rooms scattered throughout the building.  Bridget later said, "We first wrote 'Lake Street Dive' on a blackboard in a practice room up there," pointing beyond the balcony.

Oh yeah, we were in the first row of the balcony, a lovely soaring balcony like a standing wave surrounding a huge stage and making what was basically a very intimate space.  This was the quintessence of the saying, "Not a bad seat in the house."  There were carved wood and velvet coverings everywhere.  No beer/concessions but no one cared, we were there for an incredible experience.

The NEC Chamber Singers came out and assembled into a crescent towards the front of the stage, and then we realized that the NEC Trumpet Ensemble had filled the corridors in the orchestra.  The trumpets gave us a fanfare and the singers backed them up.  This was "Franfare for twelve trumpets," written in 1986 by Gunther Schuller.  Each trumpeter was perfect in his own way (all guys I think) and as an ensemble they seemed to be projecting an aural jewel, with each side presenting an aspect of what a trumpet could do.  Just amazing stuff and just the start.

The chamber singers then did a piece called "I Hear," written by current NEC student Andrew Haig in 2016.  Maybe I don't get out to hear enough classical vocal ensembles, but the male voices in this piece just blew me away, they were so emotional but controlled.  And the soprano soloist (Pepita Salim) was jaw-dropping.  This is the piece I'll always think of when I recall this concert.

They then shifted around a bit and the NEC Gospel Ensemble took the stage.  The conductor introduced Rachael Price, who came out as classy as always, wearing a dress that looked like a Kandinsky painting.  They did "What I'm Doing Here" and brought the house down.

The rest of the band came out at that point, MikeO in a checkered suit that John Mayer might have worn, MikeC in a stylish bandanna headband and no shoes, and Bridget in her trademark no-nonsense plain-colored skirt and top.  The Gospel singers disappeared and LSD was on!  This relatively short set showcased some of the best sides of the band, interspersed with funny stories about meeting each other in college.  MikeO was better on trumpet than I've ever heard him and Bridget took a few lengthy solos that had that incredible wood and velvet hall ringing.  In fact, several students accompanied them for some of the songs, including one guy on Jordan Hall's pipe organ!

They concentrated on the last record, doing Side Pony of course, Call Off Your Dogs (smoking Bridget bass solo), Spectacular Failure, How Good It Feels, and Mistakes (which actually wasn't as good in this smaller hall as it had been in the HOB - Boston, though of course Rachael was excellent).  They also did a song that had been in my head all day, Seventeen (which Bridget may have written in college), and a fantastic cover of Prince's When You Were Mine, that I'd never heard them do before.

Most of the people in the crowd were primarily there to see LSD, and we were rocking.  But even the ones who were there just to see an NEC event and weren't used to seeing pop concerts were rocking too.  LSD is so good and that hall was filled so well with great music that anyone would have enjoyed it, let alone be appreciative of the excellence.

That was the end of the first set, but there was much more to come.  Quickly the stage was set up with seats everywhere, and the guys came back on for the second set with a conductor (Ken Schaphorst), the NEC Jazz Orchestra (which was all guys too?!?), and the Philharmonia Strings.  There were only six pieces in that set, but they were all note-perfect.

Rachael soloed on God Bless the Child, which was done in a very traditional style.  Schaphorst had worked up versions of MikeC's I Don't Care About You and MikeO's Godawful Things that were beyond belief.  To hear the lovely string introduction that he had extrapolated from Bridget's intro to Godawful Things was like being in a dream.

But the last piece in the program, Bad Self Portraits, was the most spectacular.  Not only is this a great song, and not only were LSD playing and singing their hearts out, but the jazz orchestra was filling the room with wave after wave of brassy sound, and the string orchestra was swirling through our brains, dancing through the hall with layers and layers of vibrations.  If you count the conductor and the sound engineer, there were 46 amazing musicians on stage, telling us about why they bought that damned camera.

I guess the organizers weren't sure about the level of enthusiasm to expect, but the crowd was on its feet after this and would not stop hooting and hollering until Lake Street came out for an encore.  The stage crew hurriedly set up a large RCA mike, which Rachael, Bridget, and MikeC (with tambourine) huddled around, while MikeO stepped back a bit for another great trumpet solo.  Of course they did Neighbor Song, introduced by Rachael with an anecdote about how when Bridget sent her the first draft of the words and music, she and MikeO were living "upstairs and downstairs" in a triple-decker in Jamaica Plain.  She didn't say who was upstairs and who was down, but I have my theories.

OMG, what an excellent night of music!  Still not late for a Thursday, left Dave at Charles, and then proceeded on home.

Sarah got some excellent pictures (link coming); here are some of my favorites: