NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS - LIVE @ O2 FORUM
Following both a date and venue change to a smaller (and easier to fill) location, I arrive at The O2 Forum in Kentish Town unsure on what to expect of the night.
I'm there to see Nathaniel Rateliff and his band 'The Night Sweats'. Raised by a vehemently religious family in rural Missouri, Rateliff had a television with just one channel, no phone, and lived purely on produce grown at their own family farm. When Rateliff was still in school his Father died in a car accident on the way to church, and Rateliff was forced to leave education in order to become the main breadwinner of the family. He's a long way from home - I just bought a warm Tuborg for £4.50.
In what little downtime he had, Rateliff began to pick up his Mother's acoustic guitar and develop as a musician. He dabbled in a variety of sounds and genres, recently ditching the downcast folk of his early records, and replacing it with a series of blistering, soulful toe tappers for his latest album.
Before we arrive at Rateliff himself, however, we're first treated to a support act in the name of 'Reverend Deadeye'. Unfortunately for the headlining act, he steals the show. 'Deadeye' spent HIS childhood travelling through the Navajo reservation in Arizona alongside his preacher Father. Presiding over tent revivalist meetings and handling rattle snakes, he acquired his name when one of these rattlesnakes bit him in the eye, and I choose to believe him. Joining Deadeye on stage is his long time collaborator 'Brother Al' on drums, and with Deadeye's guitar (fitted with a wok as a resonator) frantically strumming alongside him, there's an incredible wall of country, rockabilly and bluesy noise to accompany Deadeye's gospel-folk-punk voice. Give him a listen:
The set comes to an end far too early, however, and now it's time for Rateliff and his sweaty nights to come aboard. Unsurprisingly, his set rests heavily on his latest album, and each track is delivered with the same impassioned fervour as the last. Album opener 'I Need Never Get Old' too opens the show, and it's a great vehicle to showcase Rateliff's rich, soulful voice. It's a romping, horn-driven track that allows him to truly howl his message, and his moans are both soulful and angry.
It’s also one of the many moments that the 'Night Sweats' themselves are given a chance to shine. Each member has their own moment to impress, and thanks in part to their energetic R&B stylings, the audience struggle to take their eyes off them. While the band's horns, keys and strings remain crystal clear throughout, Rateliff's voice growls and distorts to just the right amount. As a band, they sound fantastic.
But as the set goes on, and this sound is sustained throughout the duration of the gig, I found it to become just a little repetitive. Rateliff's songwriting, too, is incredibly conventional, and is so rooted in the standard folk-rock tradition it's basically nailed to the floor. There's no doubting his charisma - Rateliff is a passionate performer, and very watchable - but I just wanted SOMETHING else. A change in the order of the setlist may have helped, but I just became all too aware of where the gig was going. I'd listened to the record itself only a handful of times, and had never seen any live footage of the band whatsoever. Considering this, I don't think I should have been AS comfortable as I was.
Rateliff rightly saves 'S.O.B' for the encore, however, and it almost takes the roof off. It's a purely non-sentimental, gospel influenced slice of rock 'n' roll, and as Rateliff screams 'In your face preacher - I will have more booze!' I start to believe again. Just a little.
But, that's it. The show scraped past the 90 minute mark. Following a drawn out version of 'S.O.B' - complete with a 'Shape I'm In' cover thrown in for good measure - a night of toe tapping zeal comes to an end, and while Rateliff himself is now a famous non-believer, I'm struggling to find anyone in this room with me who hasn't got a massive smile on their face. Everyone is a convert. Everyone, unfortunately, accept me. Maybe 'Deadeye' stole the show, or maybe I just needed a little more proof. An atheist? No. Call me agnostic. Show me the light, Rateliff.