Call them revivalists or revisionists if you want, but Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats deliver many of the charms and virtues of classic soul: melodies, grooves, harmonies and regular bursts of brass and sass. It’s a sound in high demand these days.
Monday night, Rateliff and his six-piece band headlined a show at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, where they opened for Leon Bridges on Dec. 10. Monday’s show was initially booked at RecordBar, then moved to the Riot Room, capacity 300, after the RecordBar announced it was closing at the end of 2015.
A few weeks ago it was moved to the Midland, and rightfully so. The show drew a capacity crowd of nearly 3,000, a notable feat for a band touring on a debut album that isn’t yet 6 months old.
Rateliff, a native of Hermann, Mo., doesn’t look like your typical soul crooner. Bearded and burly, he looks more like the barista or microbrewer on “Portlandia” than a disciple of Otis Redding. He and his band, however, conjure the spirit of Redding and others, like Sam and Dave and especially Bang Masters-era Van Morrison, giving it all their own accents and twists.
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They would perform most of their self-titled album, a couple of new songs and a couple of covers so they could fill a set that lasted about 80 minutes. Their stage presentation is evolving, as you would expect from a band that is still honing its road show. But band members keep the energy percolating, especially trumpet player Wesley Watkins and tenor saxophonist Andy Wild, who pranced and danced in the background throughout the set, even, at times, while blowing into their horns.
The crowd was in a festive mood, as if at a reunion or wedding reception. Attentions wandered during the mid-tempo numbers, like “Mellow Out” and “Shake,” which erupted into a grimy electric-soul rave up. But there was plenty of dancing and singing along, too, and outbursts of recognition for songs like “Look It Here,” “Howling at Nothing” and “Out on the Weekend,” during which Rateliff banged a tambourine on his hip and bopped about the stage.
“S.O.B.,” the album’s single and a rip-roaring horn-fed soul anthem, provided the longest, loudest and most evangelical explosion of the night. The crowd clapped and sang along even after the band abandoned the stage, sustaining the song’s groove until the band returned and launched into the “The Shape I’m In” by the Band (another influence).
Rateliff’s band followed that with the soul classic “Having a Party,” a fitting end to a night of revelry. Rateliff and his band haven’t yet reached Sam Cooke’s stature or level of refinement, but they’re having fun trying to get there. And so is everyone watching them.