Someone asks me an interesting question as I’m about to make my way home after a another superb gig. Nathaniel Rateliff has just had the Dingwall’s crowd entranced for just over an hour including change (or the encore), with a set brim full of passion and high on emotional impact. The question is posed, “Do you think he’s got a chance of a long term career?” I pause for a second, before answering a resounding, “Yes.” The reason for that certainty is regrettably not the gift of foresight, but simply the way that his songs have impacted across the evening’s performance which had that special knack of hitting peaks at regular intervals, as the songs swing through the dynamics from tender to wrought full with emotion. Also a growing familiarity with his work is starting to leave its mark. If you think of the songs as a river of sounds, as it flows it cuts its channel and leaves its silt behind, the melodies, the lyrical lines, the performances, building into a tangible residue of something permanent and profound.
Putting such fancy aside for a minute, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the night. I got to Dingwalls early and a good thing too as it happens, on two counts. Firstly I’m able to catch the support act Robert Ellis. Secondly I gain a good vantage point from whence to take the whole show in, as the venue fills to busy, busy.
I saw Robert perform for the first time last night at a special showcase at the Gibson Guitar studio, so have a fair idea of what’s in store. The invite only affair naturally enough wasn’t anywhere near as well attended. He gently ribbed everyone’s natural tendency to hang back from the stage at such events saying, “I’d like to thank everyone for not standing in this area here as I really hate it when people do that.” There’s no chance of the same gag working here, however, as the crowd is already packed into the area in front of him. Also last night he played solo, tonight he has a couple of helpers on banjo and fiddle.
Over the course of the two short performances he’s done enough to get me interested too. He’s obviously not lacking in confidence, he has a certain wit about him, but also has the promise of an interesting set of songs. Steady As The Rising Sun, which is reminiscent of James Taylor’s good stuff and the single Only Lies are straight out of the singer-songwriter top drawer. Good Intentions, about adultery and Sing Along have a countryish lilt and the latter in particular, about growing up in the Bible belt with a hefty dose of hellfire and damnation, is a corker. He’s obviously a nifty guitarist too, so one to watch out for.
But this is Nathaniel’s show and the break between sets is fairly brief, which is good, and as he takes the stage there’s a palpable air of expectancy. The last time I saw him at the Shackelwell Arms, he was solo acoustic, but tonight Nathaniel has regular drummer Patrick Meese, Mark Shusterman on keys and Jenna Conrad on cello and baritone guitar to keep him company. As all of them sing as well, both the instrumentation and vocals are more in keeping with the Falling Faster Than You Can Run CD, the songs from which form the a good part of tonight’s set.
That said, he opens with When You’re Here from In Memory Of Loss. There’s minimal chat and straight into the song, it’s fair to say that the audience is almost absolutely silent, as it transpires they will be for most of the time that Nathaniel is playing. His sonorous voice commands the attention and the whole crowd hangs on every word. In my review of the album I talked about the sense of his words, they don’t always give you a clear and direct narrative. But live, even more than on the record, his phrasing and emphasis provide a natural punctuation that give his musings and extra level of meaning.
As he works through the title track, Don’t Get Too Close, Three Fingers In, Nothing To Show For, I Am and Still Trying from Falling Faster Than You Can Run, lines jump out at you as the emotional temperature rises. There’s room for a few crowd pleasers from the last album too and the sequence of You Should Have Seen The Other Guy, Boil And Fight and Brakeman plays particularly well with the crowd. For me though Forgetting Is Believing and When Do You See, played as the first song of the encore are the highlights and also demonstrate the range of his sound, from the powerful to the intimate, but never less than dramatic.
I have to say the band and the sound are absolutely top notch. Nathaniel alternates between an electric guitar and his more familiar acoustic, while the drums are a steady presence and the keys, cello and occasional baritone guitar add their subtle threads to the songs. There is plenty of light and shade and there are times when the songs demand and get a big finish, the four voices joined in harmony are particularly effective in delivering the climactic moment. Even if he doesn’t always follow the straight verse, chorus, verse, chorus structure the songs have a way of resolving themselves, his gift for melody is more obvious with the support of the band.
He doesn’t say a lot between songs, which actually works well as the audience makes up for the quiet attention by greeting the finish of each song with a rapturous reception. He does suggest, however that Right On is, “Kind of a jazzy, makeout number, so I’m sure if you fancy getting a little creepy up by the bar you can. I think there are plenty of rest rooms to make out in. Let’s hope it has that affect anyway.” As he starts to strum the undoubtedly jazzy chords he grins and says, “You see, kinda sexy!” He also plays a song called Closer, telling us, “This is a really good song that I really wanted on the record, but never got the right version of it recorded.”
Perhaps with that Nathaniel has answered the question I was posed, as there is clearly more where this lot came from. But as I walk out, someone follows me singing his own personal highlights from the evening and perhaps the answer is right there.
Review by: Simon Holland
UK & European Tour Dates
01/31 – Nottingham, Bodega
02/01 – Bristol,Louisiana
02/19 – Munich, Germany, STRØM
02/20 – Berlin, Germany, Bi Nuu
02/21 – Hamburg, Germany, Indra
02/23 – Amsterdam, Netherlands Paradiso (upstairs)
02/24 – Koln, Germany, Gebäude 9
02/25 – Paris, FR, Pop In (Free Entry)