Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats are warm, merry at First Avenue

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats perform at The Current's Holiday Show at First Avenue. All photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

As the Mainroom crowd anticipated Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ encore last night, they must’ve bellied up to the decibel level of the band itself. “Ohhh – whoa – oh!” they sang — hollered, really, as they resuscitated the Night Sweats’ wails from “S.O.B.” Everyone had gathered for The Current’s holiday show, and when the band danced back on stage, grinning, it made for a perfect snapshot of the night. There was no shortage of merriment.

First off, Bad Bad Hats opened to a stuffed house; the floor was already full back to the bar at the beginning of their set. The indie rock locals, fronted by vocalist/guitarist Kerry Alexander, deserved the attention; songs like “Super America,” “Joseph,” and “Midway” were as sweet and fresh as Honeycrisp apples.

After a whole-hearted introduction from Mark Wheat and Jade, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats kicked off their marathon set, which featured songs from their self-titled album and the new EP, A Little Something More From, and — yup — they ended their main set with stomping barn-burner “S.O.B.” The band conjured carefree honky-tonk with a trumpet, saxophone, drums, bass guitar, keyboards, and two more guitars, but the real stars were the array of tambourines, which the band would play two and three at a time. Rateliff spun the guitar-smash move on its head, shattering his tambourine on the ground.

Rateliff and the Night Sweats have been in town a lot this year, playing the Northrop, Rock The Garden, and A Prairie Home Companion for summer crowds. But now, with snow falling and temperatures heading toward the teens, winter has muscled its way in. And Rateliff is glad for it; he says the season lets you “stay home, make soup, and fool around with the person you love.” To him, “That’s what this whole state feels like.”

Inside First Avenue, cold temps could have been the last thing on anyone’s mind. Bright lights roared from behind the band, and body heat kept the crowd nice and toasty. Most of all, the music enveloped the senses, spreading life and merriment through the eager crowd.

I don’t usually count jams as songs in my notebook — I’ll make a little note but not necessarily include them in my set list. For Rateliff and the Night Sweats, though, I couldn’t help but count every one. Each interlude picked up personality of its own, which testifies to the skill of the six Night Sweats. I actually would’ve liked more of the instrumental tune they opened with before Rateliff even came on.

Some speculated that Rateliff would pull out a holiday song, given the concert’s theme, but the cover he played instead topped that. He took a minute to offer some reflections on Leonard Cohen’s death and plucked his way through a quiet “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” which Cohen wrote to memorialize Janis Joplin. Rateliff and Cohen’s songbook are old friends — Rateliff once played a Cohen residency in Denver — and the warm tribute felt right from him.

As rough as 2016 has been, many are hoping the holidays will bring a brief reprieve. What better way to celebrate than seeing live music with loved ones?