Considering how far ahead of time their show sold out and how much local radio play they’re getting, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats could have easily filled First Avenue for their first local tour stop behind their breakout eponymous album. But the main room was booked instead by another vintage-styled soul-rock newcomer on Wednesday night, Leon Bridges (whom we already covered twice this year).That led to Rateliff & Co. playing to a packed Turf Club in St. Paul, where their rugged, unflashy, blue-collar approach to Stax-branded R&B revivalism fit right in, and the smallness of the gig added to the excitement.
The Denver-based, seven-man ensemble was workmen-like and no-nonsense from start to finish. Rateliff, 36, nonchalantly followed his bandmates to the crowded Turf stage as they kicked up the good-vibey, Sam and Dave-style groove of “I Need Never Get Old,” also the opening track on their new album. A sign this was truly a band effort, they mostly stuck to the self-titled record and eschewed Rateliff’s earlier solo material, clocking in at about 75 minutes total – 75 near-perfect, hipster-jeans-tight minutes.
Rateliff said in our pre-show interview he and the band recorded their album almost entirely live in the studio, a claim that nine groups out of 10 will make. Wednesday’s set made it clear he wasn’t lying. From the fast-bopping hand-clapper “Look It Here” to the slower-shuffling gems “I’ve Been Falling” and “Howling at Nothing” to especially the swooning ballad “Mellow Out,” the live versions sounded like spot-on -- albeit still spirited and energetic -- interpretations of the originals. And when the songs did vary from the album, it was usually only for good reason: The extended version of “Shake,” as a prime example, turned into a muddy, hard-grinding jam with James Han’s billowy organ and Luke Mossman’s tasteful Steve Cropper-style guitar work leading the way.
The guys saved their two steadily rotating radio tracks for the pre-encore finale, starting with the harder-grooving “Trying So Hard Not to Know” and peaking with the gospel-tined rave-up “S.O.B.” Rateliff introduced the bigger hit by dryly quipping, “I hope you guys sing along. If you don’t, you can [bleep] off.”
Fans not only sang and hummed loudly during the song, they got into such a good groove they started doing it again as Han came back out by himself and pumped out accompanying organ parts, with the rest of the band following. Just when it looked like they were going to launch into a full-blown “S.O.B.” reprise, though, they stopped on a dime and instead switched to an extra thick and juicy cover of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” They then switched back to “S.O.B.” at the very end. It was an expletive-worthy finish, to say the least.