Live Review: Ever the Showman, Nathaniel Rateliff Showcases Exactly What Music Is Capable Of

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez
On a cold Tuesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats filled a crowd with hope again.
“Still Out There Running” – Nathaniel Rateliff

February was a tough ol’ month.

Not just for the obvious reasons: Dark evenings, snowy days, and endless grey. Last week I was laid off, joining my partner and a sea of other journalists on the scrapheap of great writers without a home to write. It’s a brutal, humiliating, rejecting feeling to be laid off, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyway. Nor would I wish this job market on them either. With the red tape of government benefits still firmly wrapped around my head, I took to bed to mope and whine.

It was under this pitiful condition that I remembered the City and Colour concert, which I’d secured press passes to weeks before my descent into this pathetic stupor. I was not in the mood to party. Or dance. Or sing. Or be upright. But, as the consummate professional I am, I peeled myself out of bed, put on my pearl headband and the matching earrings, along with my sequined black and gold pants (obviously along with the matching top) and headed down to the Scotiabank Centre.

Opener — and rising star — Ruby Waters showcased why 2024 may be her year, as the huge stage and building audience fueled her, rather than filled her with fear. With flowing songs and open heart, she certainly made herself a rink full of new fans. When I saw her last summer at Sommo Fest she was great, but this tour has seen her reach a new, exciting level.

At the other end of the career arc, City and Colour‘s Dallas Green did everything wanted of an artist with nothing left to prove. Playing hits from all over his career — including crowd delighting Alexisonfire covers — he knew what was expected of him and delivered. It was the last night of a successful tour, and Green seemed to cut loose and just be himself, a fun sight for any fan.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez

Wedged between these two acts however, Nathaniel Rateliff reminded me what was important.

Donning denim and leather, a guitar and dance moves that brought Little Richard to mind, he dominated the stage. His confidence and swagger were the only things in the building bigger than his booming voice. The Night Sweats – an organ player, three horn players, a drummer, guitarist and bassist – were electric, giving Rateliff the background needed to truly showcase himself.

For a person in a self-pitying mood, the setlist felt perfectly designed to smash my doldrums.

Hitting every high point of the Night Sweats’ three album run — “I Need Never Get Old,” “Survivor,” and of course “Son of a Bitch” were particular highlights — guaranteed a steady stream of dancing and swaying. All eyes were on Rateliff and he relished, speeding up and slowing down, dancing and sitting, soloing and go silent at the exact time necessary. It was a masterclass in showmanship.

If this had been the whole show, I’d have returned to my wound-licking hovel happy. But two songs in particular served as a slap to the chops: “Wasting Time” and “Hey Mama.” With their powerful messages and lack of respect for feeling sorry for ourselves, it was a much needed tonic:

You ain’t gone far enough to say
“At least I tried”
You ain’t worked hard enough to say
“Well I’ve done mine”
You ain’t run far enough to say
“My legs have failed”
You ain’t gone far enough
You ain’t worked hard enough
You ain’t run far enough to say
“It ain’t gonna get any better”

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats © Brantley Gutierrez

It wasn’t the first time since I was laid off that I had cried, but it was the first time I felt hope, snapped back to reality.

I still had a supportive partner, a great apartment, and a playful cat who was loving having me home all the time. I was fine. By the time Rateliff played his solo hit “And It’s Still Alright,” I felt like he was talking to me: If he could bury friends and move on, I could pick myself up from this minor setback. I was crying again. This is what music does at its best — and this was music at its best.

I’m still mad and hurt, as well as scared for the future. Music can’t heal every wound — but it can make you feel a lot better and add a ton of perspective in the process.

So by the time Rateliff took his final bow and stopped singing to me — yes, I had been wallowing long enough to believe that everything was happening to me — I knew it’d all be alright. Different, worrying, and probably messy, but still alright.

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:: stream/purchase What If I EP here ::
:: connect with Nathaniel Rateliff here ::
“Tight Rope” – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

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'What If I' EP - Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

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? © Brantley Gutierrez

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