Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney doesn’t mind the idea that the band’s live shows sometimes seem like they could run off the rails at any point.
It’s one reason the four-person group has never added musicians to its touring lineup, even though it’s sometimes challenging to cover some of the instrumental parts from the studio recordings of the songs.
"Sometimes the amount of things, because of our limited instrumentation, being basically three instrumentalists, forces us each one of us, like (drummer) Mike Calabrese will sometimes be shaking a tambourine at the same time as using all three of his other limbs to play the drums as well as singing a background harmony at the same time,” Kearney says during a telephone interview. “It’s kind of almost a thing where you’re watching someone almost fall off the cliff and they just make it. It’s exciting in that way.”
Besides, staying a four-piece live also meets another goal — giving audiences something different from what they hear on Lake Street Dive’s albums.
"As a listener, I really love going to live shows where the performances are different from the record,” Kearney says. “So that’s one thing that touring as a quartet allows us to do — differentiate it from the studio versions of the songs.”
The willingness to take risks doesn’t just show up in Lake Street Dive’s live shows. It was also a characteristic the Boston-based band embraced in making its newest studio album, “Side Pony.”
After spending the first eight-plus years of its career essentially in obscurity, Lake Street Dive started getting national attention in 2013 when a video of the group doing an acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” became a YouTube hit.
By the time the group’s 2014 album, “Bad Self Portraits,” was released to stirring reviews, Lake Street Dive was being touted by a number of high-profile media outlets (“Rolling Stone,” for one) as one of music’s best new bands.
Two-plus years of touring behind “Bad Self Portraits” only amplified the buzz, and Lake Street Dive gained a sizeable audience. It also created something the group had never encountered — expectations for its next album.
This is where the group’s willingness to take risks helped combat the pressure to overcome the so-called “sophomore slump.” And Lake Street Dive took plenty of chances with “Side Pony,” beginning with putting no stylistic limits on the music they were creating.
“I think that’s part of what made us successful in the first place," Kearney says. "(We were) being open to including a lot of different elements into our music and trying new things, learning what we are good at through a process of trial and error.”
Another risk was working with producer Dave Cobb, who also challenged the band, which includes Kearney, Calabrese, singer Rachael Price and trumpet and guitar player Mike “McDuck” Olson, in a number of ways.
Cobb changed the group’s songwriting methods. In the past, the band members wrote individually and usually made complete demos with most of the instrumentation in place before presenting the songs to their bandmates. Often recording was a question of the four band members replicating the demos.
For “Side Pony,” Cobb had the group members bring their songs in when they were still at an early, skeletal stage.
"It was definitely scary, walking into the studio session deliberately in an earlier stage of arranging the songs,” Kearney says. “It’s really challenging to open yourself up and be vulnerable with your creativity, like throw out ideas that aren’t finished and you know need work.”
But Kearney says this songwriting experiment was good for the band on several levels, beginning with forcing the four band members to be more collaborative in the writing and arranging of songs and helping them to better identify and use their individual strengths as songwriters.
The songs on “Side Pony” certainly suggest that the group members played to their strengths. Like “Bad Self Portraits,” the 2016 album is plenty eclectic, seamlessly blending rock and soul on the frisky “Godawful Things” and the standout rocker “Spectacular Failure,” drawing on ‘70s Philadelphia soul and a bit of Motown on “Call Off Your Dogs,” displaying a bit of classic rock on “Close to Me” (which even mimics a bit of Jimi Hendrix in its opening guitar part), bringing some blues to the table on “I Don’t Care About You,” and mixing perky pop, folk and soul on the title song.
Fans can expect Lake Street Dive to showcase a good number of the new songs on its tour this summer, while retaining a long-standing trademark of its concerts.
“We’re playing a lot of stuff from (“Side Pony”),” Kearney says. “And then we’ve got some of the old standbys from "Bad Self Portraits," kind of like some fan favorites of those. We also, as always, like to incorporate some covers into our set just as a way of inviting in some listeners who may be new to our sound.”