LIVE REVIEW: Nathaniel Rateliff @ Mercury Lounge


Can we take a little time to talk about Nathaniel Rateliff?  Though we were all a bit smitten here at AudioFemme upon hearing Rateliff’s most recent release, Falling Faster Than You Can Run, his live performance last night at Mercury Lounge has left me slack-jawed and palpitating.  I for some reason expected Rateliff to perform solo and was pleased to see a full-band set up when I entered the venue.  Accompanying Nathaniel was a drummer, electric organist, guitarist/harmonica player/vocalist, and a bassist/vocalist cellist.  Rateliff himself volleyed between electric and acoustic guitars, taking center stage amongst this cluster of phenomenal multi-insrumentalists.


Despite what you’d like to say about the Mercury Lounge, maybe because of its cast of regulars and location, last night it struck a high note with me.  The show was intimate, filled to a comfortable capacity with a very chill and respectful crowd, and the sound was piercingly clean.  I can’t imagine a better setting for the band, save for a roadside tavern in somewheresville Montana.


Of the simple criteria that form my opinion of a live performance, the deciding one is this: does the artist sound better recorded? or in the flesh?  Naturally the latter is the most desirable, and Rateliff proves to be a true showman-someone who thrives outside the studio-womb.  His entire band communicated intricacies that exist faintly on the album, but provide much impact in person.  All of the backing band were so in sync, it was as if they were siblings breathing through one lung.


Rateliff’s music characterized by restraint, thoughtfully placed silence and emotive crescendo, all of which were delivered with enviable precision.  His songs have a way of creeping up on you, commencing with curt, whispering guitar strums and the lower end of his dynamic voice, they eventually explode into biting anthems that are prone to attack Rateliff’s oppressors-be they drink, women, or himself.


On Falling’s opening track “Still Trying” Rateliff berates himself with a dose of humor and honesty:


There’s moments I forget to tell myself//If you’d rolled in it enough you know your shit won’t even smell


This air of self-deprecation was certainly present last night, though it was met with a refreshing wealth of kindness and humility.  At one point Rateliff told the crowd how lucky he felt to be on stage with his best friends making music.  He repeatedly thanked the audience “…for coming out and giving a shit” an understated token of gratitude I think we all can relate to.


One of the most fascinating things about Rateliff’s sound is that it is freakishly accessible, and yet it could be ruined so easily.  His blend of folk, rock, and blues-tinged pop is nothing if not soulful, but it would only take the syrupy brush of a commercial producer to paint it up like Of Mice And Men, Fisher Price: my-first-folk-band garbage.  Let’s hope that Rateliff remains true to his beautiful sound and is able to dodge such unfortunate branding.  I have faith he will continue to make the right decisions for his music, that he will continue giving a shit, if you will.


Check out the video for Nathaniel Rateliff’s “Don’t Get Too Close” below:

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