Does this happen to you? Sometimes I feel like seeing a favorite band or singer in concert makes me feel like I’m nose down and studying for a test. Is there a good kind of a test? Is there such a thing? Maybe. But it won’t happen if you’re at home alone and listening to their record, not usually. You become the student eager for his rewards and high marks once you’re actually there, front and center, as those lights dim, as that music starts up, when the performers set about entertaining for their wares.
Sometimes so much good happens in such rapid-fire succession (the lights! the dancing! the ringing in my ears!) I find myself stumbling across newly filed thoughts, greeting them warmly, putting my arms around them, trying to memorize all that is taking place. I’m making room for new memories. And if I get it right, if I can retain all that takes place in just a few hours, then I’m set until the next sold-out musical dynamo of a gig. I’m set for days, weeks, months, years, whatever it takes.
When you’re at a Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats show in St. Augustine around dusk and the perfectly-bearded lead singer can’t stop praising the late Chuck Berry, then proceeds to do the best duck walk he can all across the stage, that’s one of those moments I’m holding onto. It’s good for a smile. I’ll savor this both now and later. I know it’s an immediate highlight, an important scene. This is a test, after all. I’m studying.
I know, too, that when AJ Haynes (lead singer of Louisiana-based opener Seratones) suddenly makes her way into the audience on her very last song to do some people wading, I’m already preparing for what will happen next. She’s singing and touching and generally connecting with us on another level, hoping to surprise the distracted and unaware. When she makes eye contact with me for almost two seconds, that’s another one of those moments (and two silent seconds between anyone at any time can be a comfortable kind of eternity). It’s been a spell since the show created some new history and I can still go through the Rolodex of my mind and see that taking place all over again. I can easily recall her fiery intensity.
With that in mind (or despite all of it), please understand this truth: The Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats concert was every bit as good or better than you ever expected it might be. That’s my promise. And perhaps that’s no real revelation. Having seeing this outfit perform in North Carolina not long after their monumental Stax album was released, this version of the band these several months to a year later exposes some players who have chosen to polish their respective crafts to damn near perfection. Fully enjoying a song we’d not known and then hearing Rateliff offer, “We’ve never played that song for anybody before,” that’s as enchanting as a spell. New music’s on its way, folks, and I’ll be the first to offer up that it’s a few scoops of the good stuff, a continuation of a sound they’re only managing to improve on. Is it possible to better your best? No? Well, then. That proves these sorts haven’t quite shown us all they’re capable of just yet.
We arrived at the concert with an unspoken plea for the band to make us feel happier than we were. We wanted to connect with the music we loved, and on a Wednesday no less. We arrived with a “please” and their response was to bow down low, offer good graciousness, and overuse the words Thank You in return. Their gratitude kept us giving. We cheered and asked for seconds and thirds. We were hoarse the next day.
I wore my most faded denim for the special occasion, the color of a Simpsons sky up top and faded as your best friend the morning after New Year’s Eve on bottom. And, for a band named after a certain kind of perspiration, it was a beautiful night with just the right kind of breeze to accompany a soundtrack that kept all of us swaying and throwing our arms up in some kind of AMEN gospel jubilation. Florida took pity on us for a spell and offered us air that felt just right, deciding to be impossibly kind to us at the tail end of April.
It’s been several days and their “Thank You” won’t leave my head. You know the one. It’s the tune where they repeat the words “I just wanna thank you” over and over again. They are words that will bounce around in your brain a long while. It’s a song that fully represents their entire demeanor. If they wanted to do all they could to overwhelm us with their gratitude, for helping them succeed by supporting them, well then, that’s a mission accomplished if I’ve ever seen and heard one. Job well done, boys.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Live Review + Photos by Dainon.
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