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Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats captivate at Northrop

by Luke Taylor

June 01, 2016

Nathaniel Rateliff, Northrop 1
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats performing at Northrop in Minneapolis, Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
Steven Cohen

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have a song called "I've Been Failing." At this point in the band's trajectory, that's become an ironic title.

Standing onstage before a capacity crowd at Northrop (100 tickets remained before the show, but Northrop personnel said all remainders were likely sold as rush tickets), Rateliff and the Night Sweats captivated the audience with a 13-song set (part of a three-act show that opened with Caroline Rose and closed with Lord Huron). As the audience clapped, sang and danced along to Rateliff and the Night Sweats, it was clear the Twin Cities crowd had forged a connection with the band.

Much has been made of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats' self-titled debut album being released on Stax Records, and for good reason; the band's sound aligns perfectly with the storied Memphis label whose roster includes such acts as Sam & Dave, Booker T and the MGs, and the Bar-Kays, to name just a few. But seeing Rateliff and the Night Sweats' live performance further cements the alignment: The show began with the Night Sweats in place on stage, launching into a vamp led by prominent horns and keys; Rateliff walked onstage about 12 bars in, shuffling his feet in a James Brown-style dance he often repeated throughout the night, to the audible delight of the audience.

And speaking of dance moves, the Night Sweats were never still throughout the show; of particular note were the horn section of Wesley Watkins (trumpet) and Andy Wild (tenor sax). Looking playfully cool in their sunglasses, the duo danced all night long, often matching one another's moves. Watkins, nattily dressed in red jeans, white shirt and flat cap, punched the air, kicked his knees up, and even performed a smooth, fluid dance that resembled a speedskater training on a slideboard. When Rateliff introduced the band members, the audience hooted and hollered for Watkins, clearly in recognition of his nonstop dancing.

For the most part, Rateliff let the music do the talking. He did share a brief story of how he and lifelong friend, bassist Joseph Pope III, liked to play the Willie Dixon song "Wang Dang Doodle" as youngsters, and how that inspired the first song Rateliff wrote for the Night Sweats, "Howling at Nothing."

Rateliff is an easy fellow to root for; he's put in a lot of time and a lot of hard work to get to the point of playing a sold-out Northrop. As audience applause resounded after his first song, "I Need Never Get Old," he almost seemed to pause in bemusement as he took in the reaction. Later in the show, before performing the song, "Thank You," Rateliff asked the house lights to be put up on the audience, just so he could take in Northrop's packed balconies and give his heartfelt thanks. He then coaxed the seated audience to stand up — which they happily obliged to do. Rateliff, having turned his back briefly to switch guitars, turned back to the audience and, seeing the all-standing auditorium, quipped, "Sh**, now I have to play something upbeat!"

But Rateliff set joking aside as he reflected on the origins of his next song, "Trying So Hard Not to Know": "This song is about being a total f****** failure," he said, "but it's hard to think that standing here in front of you guys."

And while the audience appreciated songs from the Rateliff and the Night Sweats' album, clearly there's more to come from this band, as the set also included new songs, "Out on the Weekend" and "I Did It." Rateliff noted the each of the new songs, and he even said at one point, "I hope you like it," but the crowd's joyous response likely left little doubt.

For their penultimate song, Rateliff and the Night Sweats performed their first hit single, "S.O.B." Rateliff, introducing the song, encouraged the crowd to sing and clap along, but he implored the audience not to throw drinks at him when the song reached a particular line in the chorus, clearly knowledge gained from experience with unfortunate crowd behavior. "And if you're at the point of throwing drinks," Rateliff added, "perhaps you shouldn't be having any."

Rateliff had nothing to fear as the audience clapped, danced and sang along, even singing "Whoa-ohs" as directed under Rateliff's second verse, and humming "Mm-mm" and snapping fingers during the third. Wrapping up the set, Rateliff and company transitioned to a cover of The Band's "The Shape I'm In," before reprising "S.O.B." just before exiting the stage.

The audience filled Northrop with gushing and protracted applause, beckoning for an encore. Ultimately, calls for the encore went unanswered (the structure of the night's program likely didn't allow for it), but the Twin Cities crowd will have a chance to see Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats again very soon, when the Denver-based group return to Minneapolis to perform at Rock the Garden on Saturday, June 18.

Set List

I Need Never Get Old
Look It Here
The Intro
Howling at Nothing
Wasting Time
I've Been Failing
Out on the Weekend
Thank You
I Did It
Trying So Hard Not to Know
The Shape I'm In (The Band cover)
S.O.B. (reprise)