In the 1980 musical The Blues Brothers, John Belushi is violently pursued throughout the film by his vengeful ex-lover Carrie Fisher. The precise reason for this is never made completely clear but in some weird, alternative universe, I like to think that Nathaniel Rateliff, born in 1978, could actually be the offspring of this warring duo. Perhaps Belushi owed child support payments. The point is, Rateliff is blessed. He is certainly in possession of a voice Belushi would have been proud of and the barnstorming material performed tonight in Manchester’s O2 Ritz with his band The Night Sweats demonstrates all manner of thrilling musical influences and evocative geographical inspirations, but it is the bluesy soul that Dan Ackroyd and Belushi famously gave us in John Landis’ wild movie that is without doubt the most prevalent one.
Prior to Nathaniel and co taking to the stage, the Ritz has a bit of an unexpected treat up its sleeve. I really should learn to check who has the support slots at these events because it is an unexpected thrill to see Matthew Logan Vasquez amble towards the Manchester crowd and (once power allowed) launch in to a gloriously sparse version of Bushwick Blues. The song is one of the signature tunes by Vasquez’s band Delta Spirit and it was a joy to experience such a great song in such an intimate manner. Evocative contributions on the soundtrack of the brilliant Friday Night Lights along with California’s incredible ode to adolescence which was easily one of 2012’s songs of the year have ensured that the band have a special place in my heart. Having missed previous visits to the city, it was an absolute pleasure to see Vasquez perform his darker collection of tequila soaked compositions to an appreciative audience, before inviting Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on to the stage to provide the substantial meat around the more red-blooded finale. For those not familiar with Vasquez and his material, this energetic denouement certainly increases the sense of anticipation prior to the main event.
Despite the numerous pleasures this evening offers, there is definitely a rather large and unfortunate elephant in the room, and if ever there was a night that appeared to be building towards one particular moment, then this was it. For the sold out audience in The Ritz tonight, the elephant and that moment is the anthemic, gospel preaching brilliance of Son of a Bitch. For Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats the song looms heavy over proceedings, but focussing on this admittedly significant song in the set list does very little justice to every single moment that comes before it.
The band open vigourously with the sublime I Need Never Get Old and this quickly establishes the dynamic of the evening. The song rolls up sweet, soulful valleys, subtly introducing the significant players in the Night Sweats before Rateliff drives the song over a crest with it’s unrestrained, rousing finale. Look it Here is more garage rock than gospel but is no less thrilling and I’ve Been Failing introduces a more meditative angle to proceedings. Rateliff writes from the heart and clearly draws from a life of ups and downs with significant experiences in-between. This ensures that tracks like Wasting Time feel warm and authentic. These more introspective moments are certainly delivered from the heart but never fall foul of any over-the-top self-indulgence. Rateliff is certainly at the heart of all the songs performed tonight and he possesses a burley magnetism adding weight to his southern sermons but the Night Sweats are his equal, proving to be a vital cog in a show that is also a musical joy from start to finish; there’s just something warm and forgiving about a hammond organ and a brass section and Wesley Watkins’ impressive moves throughout exhibit an unbridled passion that does not seem forced in any way.
When S.O.B finally arrives so does the audience, who have been surprisingly subdued up to this point, preferring to admire from afar. The song possesses a frenetic, unbridled passion and the energy becomes infectious as the crowd immerse themselves in the track’s innate gospel infused energy and the singalong chorus is sustained by the crowd long after the band have disappeared. This invigorating enthusiasm beckons the band out for one final track yet even The Band’s The Shape I’m In is affected by their breakout hit and the encore ebbs and flows, failing to escape from the rapture created by the reoccurring chorus of S.O.B which is still being bellowed with abandon long after the band disappear for a second and final time.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Matthew Logan Vasquez
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto