Rateliff and his delightful band the Night Sweats are pounding pavement across North America and beyond, supporting their 2015 self-titled release that’s seen geriatrics, drunks, arts students, and other rivals on the social spectrum united in a common chorus that your parents are probably still mildly offended by: “SON OF A BITCH, GIVE ME A DRINK.” But Rateliff (who I’m still convinced is my cousin Jay’s alter ego, dying your beard isn’t fooling anyone dude) and his six fellow tourmates are so much more than a fun sing-along. They’re steeped in years of tradition, nostalgia, and romance. They look like they’d smell like Van Morrison’s tour bus in ’68. They preach, gospel-style, about women, whiskey and trials of all sorts. They sound like a Coen Brothers wet dream (seriously, they should’ve soundtracked “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”). And they’re damn incredible.
Rateliff’s accompaniment burst into the jiving rollick of album opener “I Need Never Get Old,” as Rateliff bounded on stage after a half-minute of jamming. He whipped on his Telecaster, stepped to the mic, and melted hearts for the next hour and a half. The whole band exuded the sheer ecstasy and joy that seemed to typify the early trumpeters of rock and roll and rhythm and blues; shaking and flailing, howling and grinning ear to ear, stomping and spinning, playing castanets with their knees. It was equal parts gleaming gospel revival tour, ‘50s swamp jam, and unholy rock and roll goodness, coming at you in high-fidelity stereo and true Technicolour presentation.
Rateliff’s integrity as a lyricist and songwriter are evidenced on last year’s smashing record; his integrity as a performer and entertainer are evidenced on every stage he graces. He moved with ease, slithering between moods and dances, building from a clean baritone to his now-signature roar, belted from beneath the brim of a beat-up railway fedora. His entire band followed a similar beat; guitarist Luke Mossman is a tight-stepping exercise in how to use a Telecaster properly. His gorgeous, rich tone and punchy lines don’t insist on being a show-stealer; they insist on being part of an unforgettable show. Trumpet player Wesley Watkins didn’t miss a note all night, which is an impressive feat for a fella who looked like he was auditioning for a Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist contest, and pulled it off with grace and poise.
The surprisingly docile crowd lit up like a powder keg when the first hums of “S.O.B.” burst through the speakers. Suddenly, as if touched by the holy fire, the crowd was writhing, clapping and howling as Rateliff had done for the past hour. The band livens up the song with a horns solo and an absolutely ingenious and hilarious stop before the last chorus. The band goes silent, and the crowd rips into the chorus, loud and unruly, before stopping and nervously tittering at their exuberance. Not only is it a dynamite show gimmick, it’s a wonderful way to show people that it’s okay to let loose, belt your heart out, and dance like a fool. Before that silence, the routine, the everyday, can take much of a hold, Rateliff unleashes the last chorus, and we’re saved. Hallelujah.
Returning to the stage for a perfectly-suited cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” Rateliff and the Night Sweats sent the crowd out into the rainy drum of Granville Street, but with a jolt in their step, a snap in their fingers, and a tune on their tongue. I’d put good money on a good number of people at Rateliff’s show dancing themselves into bed. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
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