Considering that Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats could have easily sold out any one of a number of larger Milwaukee venues on Thursday night, it certainly seemed as though there’s no place the no-frills, folk rock/gospel-esque/neo-soul band would rather be rocking than Club Garibaldi in Bay View.
The seven-piece Denver-based ensemble looked right at home on the cramped stage, ready to all but sermonize to the expectant audience congregated in the neighborhood bar. It seemed that everyone was getting ready for a revival.
"We were here years ago," Rateliff started, "there was no one else here." The crowd roared and Rateliff and company wasted no time in delivering their best. The Night Sweats – which included an organist and a hardy three-piece horn section – launched into a euphoric "I Need Never Get Old," the opening track of their just-released eponymous debut album from Memphis' recently revived Stax Records. It came as no surprise after hearing just a few Rateliff chords that the gritty, sixties soul sound of The Night Sweats and their charismatic front man fit in perfectly with the iconic label whose legends include Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes.
There are few bands that sound nearly as good live as they do on an album, but Rateliff & The Night Sweats are clearly an exception. From the raspy, visceral "Howling at Nothing"; the raw, supercharged "Trying So Hard Not to Know"; the bittersweet soul of "Look It Here"; and the Redding-like strummed ballad of "Mellow Out", the live versions stood out as not only worthy comparisons to the album cuts, but in most cases, superior interpretations of the originals largely due to Rateliff’s unapologetic unleashing of pure emotion.
"Shake," typically one of Rateliff’s slower, groovier tunes, evolved into a romping affair with a soulful and aggressive mix of shakers, organ and guitar, and the crowd was more than willing to join in the funk. More than once throughout the evening, Rateliff would close his eyes, then look up and point emphatically to the ceiling. It feels like he is searching for something.
When Rateliff started humming the first few bars to introduce the now radio-famous, sing-along, stomp your foot gospel anthem "S.O.B," the crowd was already fully on board and enthusiastically clapping and "hmmm-mming" along. Band introductions commenced – Joseph Pope III (bass), Patrick Meese (drums), Luke Mossman (guitar), Mark Shusterman (keys), Wesley Watkins (trumpet) and Andy Wild (sax) – while the crowd collectively clapped, snapped and continued to hum along in lieu of song lyrics.
Rateliff asked for audience participation, and the crowd couldn’t help but deliver. "S.O.B" continued to build to a thunderous crescendo until suddenly the band quieted to just a mild snapping beat. "Thanks again for coming out," said Rateliff, "We love Milwaukee." The band quieted down, briefly, before revving back into the chorus and bringing the crowd back with them. "Thanks again so much."
The band exited the small stage while cheers rowdily continued from the crowd. A long minute later, Shusterman and Meese returned to revive the melody and coax the rest of the band back on stage. The reassembled band then deftly moved into a cover of The Band's classic "The Shape I'm In," then closed the loop by coming back to the chorus of "S.O.B." one final time. Rateliff takes off his guitar, looks and points to the ceiling. It feels a little like vindication.
By the end of the roughly 75 minute top-to-bottom soul-shaking renaissance of a gig, Rateliff and his band, with their sleeves rolled up and clothes soaked in perspiration, had earned the right to bask in the adoration of the densely packed crowd.
There is no doubt that as Rateliff’s popularity continues to rise. His throat-searing, heart-wrenching proclamations will continue to win over audiences both big and small. There are moments in musical history where those in attendance will have a story to tell of seeing an immensely popular band at a small venue. Tonight's show had that feeling. Any show-goers lucky enough to get one of the most sought after concert tickets of the year will be the envy of those who came up empty handed. Club Garibaldi and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were a match made in heaven and one that likely will never be experienced again.