Review: Nathaniel Rateliff – The Soup Kitchen, Manchester

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The last time I had the greatest of fortunes to see Nathaniel Rateliff play live, it was the Summer of 2011, and he was supporting the equally talented Caitlin Rose. That night, he was playing solo – just a man, a guitar, and a voice that blew the crowd away. At the time, I had only heard a song or two from the man from Missouri, but by the end (0r even the middle) of that evening, I had been converted into a firm fan for life. Now back in Manchester, and playing The Soup Kitchen on a wet and windy Sunday evening, Nathaniel was accompanied by a band – cello, keys and drums – to better convey the sounds of his sensational new album, Falling Faster Than You Can Run. 

Earlier in the evening, TFFT favourite Stefan Melbourne had supported, assuredly confirming that Manchester continues to produce exceptional talents. Accompanied by the wonderful Chloe Leavers, Melbourne delivered some stunning performances, including the gorgeous Don’t Let Me Go, as well as a couple of new tracks from his upcoming EP – set to be released this Spring.

After a short break, Rateliff took to the stage. Dressed in a denim shirt, a pork pie hat and a spotted neckerchief tie, he portrayed a man of timeless fashion, and his performance reflected this too. Opening with the short and to-the-point When You’re Here, Rateliff and band flowed straight into the title-track of his new album – Falling Faster Than You Can Run. It’s fair to say that not many of his songs are particularly cheerful – on more occasions than not, they are laced with deep, sorrowful emotion, displaying moments of pain and anguish. Tracks such as Pounds And Pounds, Boil And Fight and You Should’ve Seen The Other Guy illustrate bust-ups a-plenty, yet on stage (and in person), Rateliff comes across as extremely friendly and at peace, suggesting that such heartrending feelings are taken from the past rather than the present – perhaps due to his time as a missionary in Denver.

Moreover, the more upbeat songs (in sound, if not lyrically) produced a delicate shift in mood. A version of This – the rarely-heard B-side of hit single Shroud – was light and bouncy, with a gypsy-folk sound that brought a smile to everyone. Don’t Get Too Close was a great example of how to perform an upbeat song with melancholy lyrics, whilst the soft and whispery Right On rolled on gently, allowing the crowd to reflect on his gorgeous songwriting ability.

Rateliff is a man of few words on stage, but he was clearly more comfortable with a band behind him. His assertion that he had missed the Grammy Awards to be in Manchester produced an expected cheer from the crowd, whilst his bandmate’s claim that new track Three Fingers In is a great song to ‘nail to’ was met with hearty laughter. A further acclaim came unexpectedly during Rateliff’s bleakest of tracks, when we were joined by Mancunian royalty in the form of Guy Garvey – a man who receives a choir of cheers and nods of affection every time he walks into a room, even if at the most inappropriate of times!

New single Still Trying brought the set to an end with on almighty cheer, before Rateliff and his band returned for an encore of two additional numbers. First up was a gorgeous performance of Closer – a song that failed to make the final cut of his new album – before proceedings were brought to a close by the rousing Early Spring Till.

To be completely honest, it was a night of musical perfection. Stefan Melbourne is an incredible local talent and was the perfect choice of support. And Nathaniel Rateliff is quite simply one of the finest songwriters and performers of our age – heartily and boldly laying his emotions down on the table for all to see. I just hope it’s not another two and a half years before he returns next time.