Written by Eric Sperrazza
There are few avenues left these days for people to come together, leaving behind their differences in politics, faith, and social class. At every turn, any issue, no matter how negligible, forces the majority of the general populace to take sides against one another.
At concerts, however, the lines are seemingly blurred. For a moment in time, the schisms of the day are abandoned as you are shoulder-to-shoulder with venerable strangers, singing and dancing in unison; sharing in a moment where the music moves you collectively and fills you with sheer joy. Regardless of the state of the world, we music lovers always had THAT…until we didn’t.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a moratorium on those wondrous interactions at concerts as the world sheltered in place, separated from each other, to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.
For over a year we battled with the uncertainty of tomorrow, while those that make music for a living suffered a hard blow to their livelihood. Everyone and everything, regardless of how close, seemed so distant.
But the winter of our discontent appeared to be at an end, as news of music venues resuming shows began to circulate around the internet. Fans began to tweet sentiments of excitement while bands hit the road. But, what would this new world look like? How would it feel to come together once more? These were questions that demanded answers and so I embarked on a road trip to my first live show in more months than I care to count.
My first stop was a town on the outskirts of Philadelphia called Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This town was once a pillar of American Industrialism, as Bethlehem Steel was once responsible for many of the skyscrapers and bridges that adorn our country. Since the permanent closing of the factory, the town has struggled to make its comeback and find its identity. I thought it was fitting that my first show in the real world would be there…and “there” is where I would witness Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, a Colorado-born neo-blues rock band, sprinkles in a potpourri of everything from outlaw rock, rockabilly, gospel, R&B, and vintage soul into their music. Rateliff fronts the band with a voice that can both soothe the soul, perfectly pitched and gentle to the ear, and then, all at once, can seamlessly shift gears to bellow a howl that pulls on your heartstrings and drops collective jaws.
At the Levitt Pavilion Steel Stacks, with the backdrop of the Bethlehem Steel Factory lit up like an American ruins tourist attraction, this band masterfully began to give Bethlehem back its identity.
Like Joe Cocker, Bruce Springsteen and so many other working-class artists that came before them, Rateliff delivered a high-energy experience, telling stories of addiction, lost love, and finding one’s place in a difficult world, all the while doing so with a spirit that moved everyone in earshot. At the center of it all, Rateliff is commanding the whole crowd with the fervor of a Sunday preacher and the inviting warmth of the local yokel at your corner bar.
The one thing that was obvious to everyone was that the experience you get listening to Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats on a recording is lesser than the memory you walk away with seeing them live.
Young hipsters display their Vaudevillian-twizzled mustaches, while baby boomers are in their khaki shorts and hard rock fans with Queen and AC/DC screen-printed shirts. Your quintessential Philadelphia locals fly their Eagles’ colors across their various accouterments, in lockstep with one another singing, jumping, dancing & shouting; moved by the music and lost in the joy, arm, and arm, together once more.
The band and audience, both grateful for their evening together, feed off of each other’s infectious energy to create an unforgettable live experience and to make this perfect night happen.
Perfect it was. From the band’s opening chord of “Shoe Boot,” “Electric Runaway,” to “S.O.B.,” a thick vibration filled the air. Maybe the setlist is the right setlist for the right night at the right venue. It’s hard to say.
What I can say is that I will never forget one specific and cathartic moment for the rest of my days. When Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats began to perform their hit, “Redemption” from the Palmer Motion Picture Soundtrack, the audience began to sway collectively and sang with the band, “As it takes its hold and it won’t let you go, I’m reminded of the cold / And how it’s taken so much from me / Are you worthy of being saved? All your fears and insecurities / Just set me free / Just set me free / Just set me free…”
Welcome back to being together again.
This review is dedicated to my father, Bob, for sharing his love of soul and blues-rock with me. I wouldn’t have wanted to share this night and this music with anyone else in my life.
Connect with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats