Photography: Rob Laughter / roblaughter.com

Nathaniel Rateliff

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  • Thomas J. Speight
  • Lewis Veakins
Harvest Sun @ Leaf 24/1/14

Despite the name, Leaf was clearly not green enough for American country folk artist NATHANIEL RATELIFF and his band of travelling troubadours, as they arrive with instruments adorned with their own portable foliage. Such eccentricity (is that keyboardist wearing a scarf, INSIDE?!) thankfully sits comfortably in the gorgeous yet mildly derelict venue, illuminated as it is by streams of softly glowing bulbs and more mirror balls than can really be necessary.

Before they can present their blend of crippling loneliness and American pastoralism, however, local singer-songwriter LEWIS VEAKINS takes to the stage, tasked with warming us up with his indie ballads. He does a fine job, sounding well rounded with a style that varies with each new song, preventing the monotony that can be difficult to shake when you fit into the man-with-guitar template. Although at times his lyrics and vocal style skirt too close to that trendy Bastille-esque tortured-but-not-really-indie fad, his occasional swearword-strewn mania helps counter-balance this and convince the audience he means what he sings.

Hot on Lewis’ heels comes London folk artist THOMAS J. SPEIGHT and accompanying singer Evelyn Burke. The pair are sickeningly cheerful and almost seem like some kind of cruel joke coming before the troubled confessions of Rateliff, but in terms of musical quality they are consistent and pleasant, if unremarkable. Speight’s songs sound like the stuff you remember your dad listening to, but the gorgeous harmonies the two produce help compensate; Burke’s voice is probably more capable than Speight’s, but his rougher tones compliment her more cultivated ones beautifully. The songs themselves are just too twee, filled with just about every romantic country cliché there is – after several brave attempts at getting the crowd involved, and even taking a march amongst the audience at one point, I’m left thinking that this duo are lucky they’re playing to such an accommodating bunch.

Nathaniel Rateliff’s eventual entrance feels rather subdued after Speight’s optimistic energy, and the lights seem paler and our beverages suddenly sadder. I’m struck by how world-weary the man looks; his faded tattoos and strange jewellery all seem relics of a rich and troubled past, and his southern drawl and cowboy hat only exaggerate this. He opens with Falling Faster Than You Can Run, which at once reinforces the Western melancholy that has swallowed the Bold Street venue. Along with Rateliff’s own powerful presence, his band are far more than just filler – in particular, some excellent cello playing in Shroud makes for an experience that suggests Nick Cave at his most moody. Rateliff’s quality lies in his ability to conjure a mood and hammer it home, and every song contributes in its own unique way to the crushing atmosphere presented – by the end, the audience is as silent, sullen, and glazed as if we’d all been simultaneously divorced and handed whiskey. Even the more energetic songs, such as Still Trying, find power in their thunderous melancholy, and Rateliff’s own authentic delivery spreads an infectious desperation that leaves gooseflesh in its wake. Rateliff’s eventual encore ends with Early Spring Till, an absolute highlight – its pervasive quietness is shattered by the great climactic chorus and the tearful applause of the delighted crowd.

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