Though she was no stranger to the area previously, many fans first noticed Bridget Kearney through her standout work as bassist, harmony singer and songwriter for Lake Street Dive.
Now, the 30-year-old Iowa native is taking advantage of some time off from her main gig for a solo tour and, before a sellout crowd Monday night at One Longfellow Square in Portland, she found herself in friendly territory as she stepped up to the lead role.
Kearney featured original songs from her new CD, “Won’t Let You Down,” and revealed her talent for crafting very catchy pop tunes, often spiced with a quirky humor. Youthful but far from naive, Kearney told musical stories that had the audience both rocking out and listening carefully for her next witty turn of phrase.
Playing finger-picked electric guitar and backed by Sarah K. Pedinotti on keyboards and vocals, Benjamin Lazar Davis on bass guitar and vocals, and Alwyn Robinson on drums and vocals, Kearney led off the set with the title track from the new album. A sort of teen anthem leaning heavily on double entendres, the upbeat declaration established the joyful mischief at the heart of the New England Conservatory-trained singer-songwriter’s music.
Kearney introduced “Daniel” as a tune inspired by an unlikely romantic dream and ended it with a rhyme scheme run hilariously amok. The bluesy “Love Doctor” powered up as the singer put a guy in his place, telling him, “You ain’t my doctor … you’re just the guy who puts the leeches on and makes me bleed.”
The standing crowd bobbed and swayed to Kearney’s music, occasionally chuckling at some of her lyrical gibes.
Though Lake Street Dive fans may have missed Kearney working the upright bass she commands so well for that group, her guitar playing pushed and pulled at a tough rhythmic middle on several pieces, to which she then added a few measured solos.
She referenced a creative retreat she had taken in Parsonsfield in introducing “Serenity,” a tune that struggles mightily to achieve the desired state of tranquility. The emotional “So Long” visited a breakup from the inside out. “Wash Up,” a light rock gem from the new disc, rode atop Pedinotti’s bright electronic keyboard lines to a place where its sober message to a lost love produced a sort of cleansing effect as Kearney repeated the line “wash out to sea” at the close.
Kearney’s voice may have shown just a bit of wear by the encore. But her take on the Beatles’ “I Will” fit perfectly with her own creations, sweetly completing a tunefully rich performance.
The evening began with a brief set from Pedinotti and Davis, who write and perform together as the Fit Club. Electronic loops and washes gave mystery to ethereal vocal harmonies exploring a moody folk/pop vein.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.