Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats presided over a powerful soul revival meeting to a sold-out house at the Neptune Theatre on Friday.
Nathaniel Rateliff left his native Missouri as a teen to be a missionary in Denver. He long ago fell off that wagon, but Friday (Jan. 22) at the Neptune Theatre it felt like he was holding a revival in Seattle.
A revival of soul music, that is. Rateliff and his band the Night Sweats began with “I Need Never Get Old,” one of the sharpest numbers from the band’s 2015 self-titled album. The recording is Rateliff’s fifth but his first big hit, and Friday’s concert was sold out.
Stax Records, a label best known for Otis Redding, released the album. Stax’s house band in the ’60s was Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and the Night Sweats recall that group in a way. Both bands center on a Hammond organ and both feature a crisp horn section.
Rateliff himself has a bit of Redding in him, which was most obvious on “I’ve Been Failing.” He didn’t stick with soul exclusively, though. “Shake” had a gospel sound, albeit with Rateliff’s searing, rocklike guitar solo.
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While Rateliff is the band’s singer, trumpet player Wesley Watkins was the visual center Friday. His smart dance moves suggested the Isley Brothers, but his deft playing, frequently with one hand, also stood out.
Most of Rateliff’s lyrics stayed within the typical soul archetype of trying to win back a lost love. That was exactly what he explored on “Trying So Hard Not to Know.” But Rateliff also showed an introspective side with some songs detailing his struggles with demons all his own.
“S.O.B.” is about a battle with sobriety, and it ended the night.
“If I can’t get clean, I’m gonna drink my life away,” he howled.
Rateliff and the Night Sweats played the song, left the stage, then came back and restarted it for the encore, mixing in the Band’s “The Shape I’m In.”
Videos of this mash-up from previous shows have made the Night Sweats Internet stars, and earned them several TV appearances.
“Overnight success after 21 years,” Rateliff said. “It’s crazy.”
It might be crazy, but it was also a testament to the power of endurance, and the power of soul.