Nathaniel Rateliff was ready to abandon his musical career when he finally assembled the band that would become The Night Sweats and recorded a record that he’d release with the imaginative title Nathaniel Rateliff And The Night Sweats. On the strength of last night’s performance at Auckland’s Powerstation, we should be very glad that he found the drive to keep recording.
The show opened with Shoe Boot, a well funky little thing that Joseph Pope III on bass and drummer Patrick Meese drove until Rateliff took the stage. He’s an unassuming stage presence, a man who clearly enjoys what he does, but doesn’t seem to take himself terribly seriously. His voice, like his music, is straight-ahead vintage American white country-blues-soul, with, as has been observed, a helping of funk on a number of songs that lifts his sound into something a little remarkable. On stage last night, Rateliff’s voice was nearly — perhaps not quite, but then, rare is the singer who can truly match live his recorded efforts — as strong as it is on record, rich and, when it needs to be, just a little snarling.
And so the show proceeded. Rateliff ploughs a fairly straight furrow, his music cleaving close to the soul-blues axis. And that, then, would be both strength and weakness for last night’s gig. The music is utterly engaging, it’s funky, it’s performed with style and polish, but it did feel just a tad reserved. Pope swings his bass around like it’s a weapon, the horn section blow like a horn section really should, but somehow the whole thing never quite soared. The setlist drew heavily from last year’s Tearing At The Seams, with earlier hits like S.O.B., from that first album, added toward the end for good measure, but I didn’t quite feel I was getting much more from the music than I’d be getting sitting at home listening to the LP. This is, I realise, a harsh criticism, and it’s not meant to be, but what was most frustrating about the show was the fact that Rateliff is a cracking singer, a top-notch songwriter, and he’s assembled around him a very skilled band who play his songs very, very well,
But what was lacking was the spark, the energy, that songs like Hey Mama really need. I so very much wanted Rateliff and his band to let go, to let rip, and while they did absolutely nothing wrong, while they didn’t put a foot wrong or miss a beat, the show never quite caught fire, and while I left the Powerstation a happy punter, by the time I got home I’d almost forgotten I’d heard them play. I’ll listen to Tearing At The Seams again — it’s playing as I write this review — but if I see Rateliff again, and I would be perfectly happy to, I’d love to see him invest his concerts with just a tad more fire.