Monday 20th January 2014 – McHugh’s Basement, Belfast.
Nathaniel Rateliff’s music is when an ordinary man from Colorado hits the world, and that is exactly what he is doing right now as he embarks on his UK tour; starting in our fair old city of Belfast.
I am a firm believer that Rateliff is a musician that should have everyone with ears battering at the door of ticket outlets , standing on fellow fans to make sure they see him. That said however, there is something very beautiful that instead of masses and masses, he instead plays to a few hundred devoted and attentive lovers in McHugh’s Basement on a cold winter’s night. A gig equivalent to a candlelit dinner, if that’s your thing.
In the years since first stumbling on to his music I have battled for a word to describe Nathaniel Rateliff’s voice more explicitly than ‘effortlessly crisp’, and at this point having seen him for a third time, I will give up and so his voice is just that- effortlessly crisp. It is a voice from real life, one that gets used in actual real people situations and consequently bears the scars that inevitably accumulate. Meet him on the street and you would be forgiven for thinking that the man with the cheeky charm is your typical mid-state construction worker-come-truck driver. You would be wrong of course. This man is important to a lot of music lovers, shown by a swarm of high profile fans, and not least by the host of local musicians tapping behind the historic pillars and in the dark corners of the basement on this night.
Opening the set with the hauntingly atmospheric album title track Falling Faster than You Can Run is flawless and sets the mood for a performance that for me, raised the bar. Following on he exhibits other stand out tracks from his newest solo album with I Am and Don’t Get Too Close. Here he takes us off the predicted track by welcoming in some old favourites from In Memory of Loss, first through the metallic clinks of Shroud and then the personal touches of tracks such as; You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy, Boil and Fight and Brakeman. Well and truly in awe, the crowd is quiet and mesmerised as new material is brought back into the set; he and his band glide though Right On and Three Fingers In before the powerful Still Trying lets Rateliff burst ‘I don’t know a god-damn thing’. Coming to an end he lifts the tempo with the thumpingly rhythmic Nothing to Show For before thanking the audience and disappearing, albeit only a minute or so. Returning for his encore he takes an old stripped back version of Early Spring Till accompanied by his cello player’s impressive backing vocal and his acoustic guitar; raising hair and forcing some knowing glances around the audience.
Rateliff punches you in the stomach with a lyric, but can straighten you up again with the next. I felt every song that he brought to Belfast. His use of pitch and tone was impressive, but his unique captivation is his use of volume. His limber words tumble in the first instant and in the next his lungs are open and he bellows intensely with a might that is unique to him. His delivery is precise and measured to fit each song and weave an atmosphere that just takes you. Testament should be given too to his band, playing together live for the first time they overcame some minor sound difficulties with mix professionalism and light hearted playfulness. At the difficult second album stage of his solo-career the set list was perfect, exhibiting old and new in a way that left the audience in full satisfaction.
The gentleman with a big voice and a powerful pen, there is something special about Nathaniel Rateliff live.