Nathaniel Rateliff Leaves It All Out There in Charlotte May 16, 2018 14:28
Words by DJ Tanner
Photos by Jim Dimitroff: ShowLove Media
Nathaniel Rateliff is worth cheering for. His music and his story are worthy of your applause. And he got a lot it at his show Tuesday night at the Fillmore in Charlotte.
I was fortunate to be introduced to Rateliff’s music early in his career through his 2010 debut solo album, In Memory of Loss. That album holds a special place for me – as it was essentially the soundtrack to falling in love with my wife. I followed his career closely since then and introduced as many people as I could to his music. He was one of those artists you knew should / could be bigger. His voice and songwriting talent was undeniable. He just needed a launching point, which he found with the incarnation of the Night Sweats. When I heard he was putting together a soul/funk band, I was admittedly a bit reserved. There were legions of bands taking advantage of the neo-soul revival, with varying levels of legitimacy and quality. Then I heard his first single, “S.O.B.” It was clever and catchy and authentic and turned into a massive hit. Thankfully, the rest of the album held up and catapulted Rateliff and his band into legitimate success. His second album, Tearing at the Seams, is an even more impressive showing. It’s gotten more airplay in our house than any other this year and almost every song on the album has claimed a spot as my favorite at one time or another. A long-winded way of saying it is truly a complete album – chock full of amazing songs from start to finish. I could easily turn this show review into an album review – just so many amazing tracks.
With two great albums of high energy, high quality music in his catalog, and a lifetime of earning his stripes on the road, expectations were lofty for this show. The show was sold out and the crowd was as lively as any I’ve ever seen at the Fillmore.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real opened the night. I got turned on to them when they were Neil Young’s backing band for his full-band recent tours. Any band tasked with that duty has to have some serious live chops. I’d also put their song, “Find Yourself’, as one of my favorite tracks of 2017. (There’s a great Rolling Stone article on the genesis of Lady Gaga’s collaboration on this song, which also involves Bradly Cooper because of course it does.) Lukas’ music is not breaking any new musical path – you get shades of Little Feat, Allmans, and Skynyrd – but I don’t mean that to sound negative. It’s comfortable and familiar but taken to a really unique place by Lukas’ amazing voice, guitar skills, and high energy stage presence – complete (on this night) with a Hendrix-patented teeth-guitar solo. It was a great way to start the night, with highlights including a crowd-pleasing “Carolina”, a stretched out and gorgeous “Forget About Georgia” (clever tune w/ an ever cleverer backstory), and a great version of the aforementioned “Find Yourself” to close out the set. While no Neil Young covers made the set, you could feel the Crazy Horse vibe throughout their set.
As it does on Rateliff’s latest album, “Shoe Boot” opened up the show. With an absurdly catchy and danceable drum beat and horn/bass riff, it was the perfect way to start the show. Probably the most danceable track on the album it would be at home on any DapTone release. As mentioned previously, I had some concern about Rateliff’s move to much more upbeat music, given how natural he seemed as an acoustic singer/songwriter. But his albums with the Night Sweats were/are just as amazing. And it makes even more sense once you see them in person. These guys love making/playing this music. I’m not sure anyone danced harder that night than Rateliff and his bandmates (but I sure as hell tried). And the songs just fit so well in a live setting. The choruses are built for sing a longs. And the tempo and riffs are impossible not to move along to. These guys are genuinely moved by the music they create and it’s impossible not to get caught up in it also. Not only are they enjoying it but they are appreciative for it. Numerous times throughout the show he thanked the crowd for the support that has afforded them the ability to do what they love and “truly changed their lives”. These words were particularly poignant for me – knowing the path he’d endured to get to this point. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend watching the documentary, Austin to Boston, which gives a powerful glimpse into Rateliff’s early career and backstory.
One thing I particularly loved about the evening, is Rateliff finding opportunities to work his softer, singer/songwriter side to the Night Sweats format, speaking specifically to “I’d Be Waiting” (performed solo acoustic), “Hey Mama” and “Tearing at the Seams”. All are slow burners that were great counterpunches to the overall extremely high energy show. These gave Rateliff a chance to show off the deep, captivating soulfulness of his voice.
Highlights were plentiful and hard to keep track of but the breakdown/build-up moments in “I Need Never Get Old” and “S.O.B”, were legitimately goosebump-inducing. The raucous sing-a-long of “S.O.B.” was the perfect way to end the set. You know the night has been a success and made its impact when the sing-a-long carries over into the parking lot and bar next door. Turns out “gimme a drink” is a pretty great lyric to sing at a bar. (Related, if the bartender from the Back Bar is reading this… sorry.)
I’d seen Rateliff’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” from the clip of them backstage at the Tonight Show. Unfortunately, the video got pulled off their website and I’d been dying to hear it again. It is truly a perfect cover for his voice and that band. I will remember that version of that song for years to come, as will most everyone else there I imagine. It was poignant and perfect.
There’s an article that quoted Rateliff saying/joking that his vision for this band was to be a straight and blatant rip-off of The Band. And while that is probably as close of a proxy there is in rock history, Rateliff and the Night Sweats are creating something truly unique and amazing. We’re all lucky we get to bear witness to the story. And it’s a story worth cheering for.