Sunday, December 16, 2018

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats Live In Vail | Lefsetz Letter

They’re the antidote.

You’re standing there thinking it’s 1969, that it’s all about bands and being able to play and…

Then you realize it’s pop and hip-hop that dominate the media, and you wonder…WHAT IS GOING ON?

We’re still adjusting to the internet era, we’re still adjusting to streaming, all the focus is on record companies when the truth is music lives in performance, at venues that draw people for the experience.

This show was not about selfies, but bonding with the act, with the music, a show with nothing on hard drive and no beats and synthesizers and you wonder…WHAT IS GOING ON?

First and foremost, Nathaniel Rateliff is a musician. I’m not sure we can categorize the rest of the hit parade as such. Performers, yes. Brands, yes, but musicians?

Musicians know how to play. First and foremost they’re about the music, not the penumbra, all the things that come with fame that have nothing to do with what goes into your ears.

But Nathaniel Rateliff had no fame, not for a very long time. He kicked around Denver making folkish records wondering when his ship would come in. It didn’t.

And when Chris Tetzeli moved to Denver and exited Red Light Rateliff took him to lunch, would Chris manage him?

No band ever made it without a great manager.

Then again, it’s hard to get one interested. Because of the opportunity cost. Rateliff was ready to give up, but Chris said yes and there was a U-turn to R&B/soul with the Night Sweats, and suddenly the agglomeration was a household name.

No, that’s patently untrue.

They almost left “S.O.B.” off the album, believing it was too obvious, but the truth is you can never underestimate the power of a hit. And this hit led to a shot on Fallon that got traction on YouTube and suddenly, the band could play clubs.

The phenoms, the pop stars can go directly to arenas, but the lifers have to slug it out, build it fan by fan on the road. And the truth is, despite the TV appearances and the AAA radio action, that’s where the band’s career has been built, on the road, via word of mouth.

It used to be different, you used to go to the gig to be set free, to let the music open your mind, set your soul afire, leave this crazy world behind. Now it’s about saying you were there, hearing canned tunes that remind you of what you heard online. Whereas the music of Rateliff, et al, breathes, it’s alive itself, the band is just a vehicle.

And it is a band.

The first thing insiders would say is…TOO MANY PLAYERS! Do you really need a horn section? But it’s the full band sound that puts the show over the top, it’s not a freight train mowing you down, but a fire on the mountain that you just cannot ignore, that draws you to it.

Most shows are a waste of time unless you know the material beforehand. But with Rateliff’s show, the roots resonate, this is music that is part of the firmament, American bedrock, it lifts you higher, it makes you feel good.

So the band did 200 shows a year. Band members doubled-up in budget hotel rooms. There was a minor salary. It was all done in an effort to make it. Do you know how hard it is to make it? Once you’re there, anybody can steer the ship, but getting there?

Then there was the festival circuit. Playing late enough in the day to gain mindshare, to reach 5000+ people. Opening at a festival is a fool’s errand. Being on the second stage at five or six can pour gasoline on your career, if you deliver.

Meanwhile, they kept working and more tickets were sold.

To the point where shows sell out. To the point where the buildings keep getting bigger and bigger.

And the band members… They’re lifers. Most from the Denver area. These aren’t the usual suspects who moved to the coasts and took every opportunity, rather they’re a group of friends who stuck together until they found the right formula. And believe me, there were hard times, it was not smooth sailing. If you’re looking to give it a few years before graduate school, music is not for you.

Meanwhile, most people are unaware of the act. That’s 2018. No one has complete mindshare, not Kanye, not Taylor Swift. Sure, people see their names bandied about, but they don’t know the music. Kendrick Lamar? Sure, he’s got rabid fans, but I’d wager more people in America have never heard his music than have.

And the record business sits by idly thinking it’s triumphing.

But it’s not.

Take baby boomers to a Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats show and they’d be instantly converted, they’d have to go again and again. And sure, the band has that AAA action, but most people don’t bother listening to that format, it’s a backwater. Oldsters just keep on listening to the same old stuff, because no one serves up stuff that they’d like. They sample the hits and they’re turned off.

Nathaniel Rateliff is the future.

Despite income inequality, despite the prominence of beats, despite the hype machine, there are still people playing real instruments, not giving up because this is the only thing that gets them off.

And the funny thing is it gets the audience off too.

Meanwhile, we’re inundated with mechanized drivel, you can be assaulted by sound, or you can be enticed.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats draw you in. It’s like having a V8. They were hiding in plain sight, but you didn’t know.

Or maybe you did, but most people don’t.

This is the kind of act that should be playing the Super Bowl. One where the spectacle is the music itself. Where production is irrelevant, where it’s about the humanity contained in the glorious sound.

Maybe there’s a way out of this place.

Because lord knows we’ve been in a bad way, with no breakthrough sound since the millennium. Everyone playing to younger and younger kids. What does a fifteen year old have to say?

But Nathaniel Rateliff is forty, with a lot of wear and tear, a lot of miles, and that’s what informs his sound, there’s wisdom, not calculation.

Maybe he can lead us back to the garden.


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