As I settled into the packed room of El Rey Theater, I was at first a bit confused. The opening band, JR JR, had an electropop sound very distant to the bluesy stomp of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, but the connections between the two revealed themselves to me bit by bit. First, when I looked around the room and saw how they commanded the crowd, bent on inspiring us all to dance along with them; and second, when they covered “God Only Knows” as their energy bubbled up, caressing and illuminating the song’s optimism and gratitude. These two themes would prove to be abundant in the music of the night.
After JR JR had done their bit in charming the crowd, Nathaniel walked onto the stage to a barrage of hollering. Starting out with the album’s opener, “I Need Never Get Old”, the band ushered in an uncontrollable magic into the air that would linger throughout the show. Turning back the clock to a time to when music was not listened to on headphones in private, but absorbed in public, in community, their music instantaneously united all in the room.
Rateliff’s energy set the standard for the night with his voice emotive and captivating, and his body rattling with energy like a kettle ready to let loose some steam. This letting loose is perhaps what best characterizes Nathaniel Rateliff’s evolution with the Night Sweats. His solo work is a portrait of a bottled up man, while his songwriting on Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweat showcases an ongoing acknowledgement of his own demons, but with a newfound ability let them free.
The way his stout body tilted, as though he were burning up, his face so fixed on the words as he formed them, reminded me of the Shakers, the religious sect whose devotion and fervor was characterized by unbridled shaking. The music he makes with The Night Sweats captures a sense of the connected nature of emotion-bound motion and ecstatic hope.
“I’ve Been Failing” and “Wasting Time” especially illuminated this change in the musical mindset. In the former, the emphatic repetition of “I can’t stop trying” embraces all the ways we work for the things and people in our life that we love without dwelling in the admitted failure to do so consistently. And the lyrics of the latter – “Think of all the hours I spent in constant reflection / Well it gets you down but, it don’t make it right” – contemplate the dangers of over contemplation and the love to be gained when you can get out of your own head enough to share yourself with others.
The band excelled at sharing themselves in a live setting, acting well as a unit, in a careful well-constructed give and take of sound for an eight piece band, and acting generously with the audience. This generosity lend itself to some of the standouts from the night: the impeccable, heart-stopping harmonies of “Howling at the Moon”, the sexy smooth “Shake” – featuring a kick ass guitar solo from Rateliff, the palpably intense emotion within “Trying So Hard Not to Know”, and the incredible interactive power of “S.O.B”.
The audience responded in kind, playfully chanting the melody to “S.O.B” to bring the band back out for an encore that felt more like a casually fun yet masterful jam session, one that left everyone with a smile on their face and a jolt in their step.
Written by Nina Leonard
OurVinyl | Contributor
I Need Never Get Old
Got the Whole Night to Lose*
Look It Here
I’ve Been Failing
Howling at the Moon
On the Weekend*
Trying So Hard to Know