Nathaniel Rateliff, Southern, Sons of Caliber - Belfast
Nathaniel Rateliff, Southern, Sons of Caliber
Stiff Kitten, Belfast
Wednesday 3rd of August 2011
Sons of Caliber face an unenviable task opening tonight’s Communion show in the Stiff Kitten. The venue is alive with chatter that only quietens momentarily during their set, making their job all the more difficult. The band may not necessarily grab your attention, but when the crowd does focus upon the music, they’re richly rewarded. The harmonies are lush, and Andrew Farmer tries his best to tell stories of the Irish wilderness, wolves and simple tales of love. This simplicity is the beauty of the band tonight: percussion is limited to a single kick drum, used sparingly to give full attention to the gently lilting mandolin or the voices on stage. A few duff notes aside, the crowd are captivated and rightly so by ‘My Way of Thinking’, a simple song that builds up layer by layer into something truly gorgeous. Their performance does seem to drag a little, as one or two tracks could be shortened or even removed from the set list as unnecessary padding, but Sons of Caliber have certainly justified their growing reputation as a live act.
It may not stir up as much controversy as when Dylan went electric, but the sight of Thom Southern wielding an electric guitar on stage certainly surprises this reviewer. While it’s always an admirable decision to try and shake things up, it feels like an uneasy combination at this stage, not really adding anything to the band’s formula, and possibly detracting from the delicate acoustic guitar we’re used to hearing from Southern. The band struggle with the same crowd noise problems during their set but plough on regardless. The new tracks seem promising, and songs like ‘World Don’t Shine’ from their debut EP are delivered flawlessly, but the highlight of the set had to be their reimagining of ‘Big Jet Plane’ by Angus and Julia Stone. Reworking the song to suit their strengths, Southern transform the track into something that’s emotive and simply gorgeous.
In comparison to his critically acclaimed album, Nathaniel Rateliff’s performance is stripped down to its bare bones. There are no bells, no whistles, no backing vocals or percussion, just one man and his guitar. What follows is something of real beauty. Rateliff may not be dueling Slash in a guitar battle anytime soon, but his voice is the main attraction here. It commands respect and our attention, the crowd falling deathly silent as he flawlessly reels off track after track. It’s his mastery of dynamics that compels the crowd to listen: at one point he’s almost whispering, engaging in a battle with the low hum of the PA system.
Fans of Andrew Bird will revel in Rateliff’s music, with ‘You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy’ showcasing his tongue in cheek storytelling attributes, but it’s all very slow. He maintains a fairly consistent tempo throughout his performance and due to the stripped down nature of this performance, a few tracks blend together. We’re not looking for three minute guitar solos or upbeat anthems, but the occasional musical curveball would transform this great performance into a fantastic one.
Watch Nathaniel Rateliff perform for BBC Radio Ulster's Ralph McLean on bbc.co.uk/music.