Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats At The Village Studios, Wednesday December 6th 2017
I have been very impressed by the lightning ascension of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats in just a few years. Since the time I saw them in an unassuming free Monday residency at the Echo in 2015 (at the time they were not even the artists in residence but just opening for a local band), the music of the folk hero from Denver Colorado has been heavily propelled on the radio waves, as his single ‘S.O.B.’ peaked at number 3 in the US Billboard charts in 2015, and even at number 1 in the Adult Alternative Song category. After a successful debut album and many appearances on late TV shows and music festivals across the US and even abroad, it is as if the 36-year-old couldn’t believe his life.
I got to see him and his large band on Wednesday night, in a very intimate and prestigious setting, the Village Studios, where many famous bands and artists, from Fleetwood Mac to the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Dr. Dre, Coldplay and so many others, have recorded legendary albums. After a short interview of Nathaniel Rateliff and bassist Joseph Pope III by a radio host – the intimate concert was organized by Southern California’s non-commercial radio 88.5 FM – the band played a few songs for the small and happy crowd, avoiding their big hits, but continuing to surprise everyone with a sound that many have qualified of retro or vintage, but which nevertheless exudes authenticity. There’s nothing calculated about this man, he was looking at the crowd with that skeptic eye, as if he was wondering what was all the fuzz about him.
It has been a little bit over 2 years since the success of ‘S.O.B.’, and Rateliff still tries to figure out what his life should look like, ‘Every night I am going out to play tunes, working hard,… I have never expected for the record to do how it did!’ he told us while admitting how much this success has changed and impacted their lives.
His first band ‘Born in the Flood’ released their first full-length album in February 2007, then it took a lot of time to build up the type of recognition the Night Sweats are currently receiving. ‘It’s still pretty wild to be called son of a bitch all the time’, he joked. But Rateliff is also a humble man, giving all the credits to Richard Swift, who produced their self-titled album: ‘’S.O.B.’ was the last song we recorded, it was a filler at concert’. But Richard Swift (whom he called ‘a brother to me’) convinced him to record the song, and the rest is history. ‘My instinct is to not trust my instinct, it has paid off, but I had no idea I would have to dance like a jackass for the years to come!’ he added.
I bet they have to play this song at each show, but this performance at the Village Studios was different, it was short and intimate, without too much action and they didn’t have to necessarily play the famous ones, but we got an insight into the birth of their songs when Rateliff explained how ‘creating songs start with experience outside of my soul’… ‘I have to be part of it’, he added, ‘and it’s always a surprise to me that suddenly we have all these songs’. But even if these songs seem to come from nowhere, the band is now on Memphis’ Stax records, the legendary label of Otis Redding. ‘It’s a dream scenario, I feel blessed and humble to be on this label’, added Rateliff.
The sound of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats is big and very powerful, it is a revival of soul in all its glory with horns, several saxophone and wobbling keys (they actually had 2 keyboards on stage) while frontman Nathaniel sings with a big and strong voice, as if he was auditioning for the new Blues Brothers’ band – the video for SOB was actually an homage to the Blues Brothers’ last prison scene. During the first songs they played, the trumpets were wild and loud while the music would have sounded extremely familiar even if you had never heard of them before. There was certainly something from Sam Cooke, Sam and Dave in this upbeat explosion of soul, and when Nathaniel took a guitar for the next few songs, the landscape moved toward a more poppy rhythm ‘n’ blues flavor, before going all gospel on us with the next tune, a soothing and stripped down song, which made Nathaniel’s vocals shine over wobbling keys, instantaneously bringing a moving memory of Ray Charles in my mind. But this was probably not the only comparison I could get, his bright powerhouse over a horn-filled busy soundscape could alternatively evoke Van Morrison or any modern twist on old tricks.
There was variety in the songs and the entire set was carried high and bright by the large band (they were 9 on stage!) with enthusiasm, ending the set with one of their clapping-foot-tapping song which let sax lines escape from the infectious chorus. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have the swag, the music and the moves – didn’t he try some smooth moonwalking? – but if they are well aware of all the soul legends who have preceded them, the songs, written by Rateliff, are deeply personal and are as much a celebration of the past as they are a reinvention of yourself.