I have an ambiguous relationship with God(s).

While on one hand I steadfastly believe organized religion to be mostly a terrible thing, I’m aware that the community that religion can foster can be beneficial. Historically, however, people have used that faith in one particular deity or another to draw lines and fight wars, rather than reach out and encompass their fellow man. And the deities have mostly kept out of it, either too ignorant, absent, trusting, or sadistic have been content to let us sort it all out for ourselves. This, of course, has been used, along with innumerable other arguments that are tough to contradict, as evidence that “God is dead” – either that they never existed or they buggered off or we killed them. Most of the time I fall on this side of things: religion is in general harmful, the divine is irrelevant because I have seen no concrete evidence of its existence and there are few arguments that I find satisfactory to explain it’s existence.

“The Unmoved First Mover”/Intelligent Design argument I always thought kind of nicely solved the pesky problem of there being science and everything – that some infinitely intelligent being just kinda set everything up like the most intricate 11-dimensional line of dominoes and then went “flick.” Its an argument that’s tough to argue with when one doesn’t understand how to explain the big bang.

“At first there was nothing, which exploded,” as Terry Pratchett once said.

The other argument for the existence of the divine is, of course, Lake Street Dive.

And I meant that with total (semi) seriousness. Lake Street Dive, who I saw for the first time this week at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, are clearly too perfect to have come from a cold, unfeeling, and uncaring universe neutral to the existence of humanity.

Lake Street Dive are a moderately successful soul/jazz/pop band that formed in Boston a number of years ago. Each member, an expert at their respective instruments, updated the New Orleans-influenced jazz-soul sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Chet Baker, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, mixing it with a heavy dose of disco, pop, and rock and roll. What they’ve done just over the three records and one EP that I have heard (there are several LP’s in their oeuvre which are nigh impossible to find) is create some of the most soulful contributions to modern music that is infinitely enjoyable.

I often openly question why music, as a medium, didn’t just give up after Freddie Mercury died. People like Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, and the incomparable Rachael Price, are the answer.

Ms. Price came sashaying out at the Ace, clad in a flow-y pink retro jumpsuit that took the audience’s breath away. Believe me when I say this as a cishet man who gasped in pleasure when Jon Forte walked out in a tux when I saw him open for K’Naan and drooled when I shot Lenny Kravitz last year at KAABOO. I know what an audience – straight, gay, or whatever – loses its breath. And it was lost before Lake Street Dive launched into “Bad Self Portraits.”

We were never to regain it.

Pulling from all over their last three LP’s, as well as a couple covers featured on their Fun Machine EP, Lake Street Dive left the audience breathless, dancing, screaming, and shaken. To my infinite pleasure, LSD’s set wears its old soul influences on its sleeve. I always thought it an amazingly beautiful gesture when someone like Solomon Burke or Al Green–people who’s talent is legendary and who packed houses just on their own names–would then point to the members of their band, name them, and give them each a moment to stand out in front of the crowd as their own. In LSD, each member is similarly equally valued in their live show, each given a chance to shine despite Rachael Price’s frontwoman status. Bridget Kearney’s upright bass solo, in particular, is something to behold (woman can absolutely shred). Multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson, however, creates a quiet presence in the background, often at a slight remove, holding playing the trumpet or guitar masterfully but with little fanfare.

Belting out a string of room-filling soul/rock one does miss the quieter sound of some jazz and soul and, sure enough, halfway through their show LSD took a break to go acoustic for a couple of songs, before launching back into some of their most pop-influenced tracks off their 2016 full-length Side Pony.
Look, I’m not entirely sure of the existence of god, but I had a borderline religious experience watching Lake Street Dive play. There are few things in this world which I consider truly heavenly, but Lake Street Dive were clearly sent from on-high.

Probably, anyway.