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Life's a Bitch

Nathanial Rateliff and the Night Sweats make sweet music of troubled times
Photo: Todd Cooper
Photo: Todd Cooper

Your friend gets cancer days before his girlfriend announces she’s pregnant, your father dies in a head-on collision on his way to church — sometimes you just need a goddamn drink.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats take life’s lowest days and turn them into old-timey rock tunes catchy enough to make a sourpuss hoop and holler her troubles away (at least until tomorrow’s hangover).

The band’s hit song “S.O.B.” from their 2015 self-titled album flooded radio circuits and music charts at the speed of an overnight success. Rateliff’s musical career, however, has been like his life: slow, steady, and full of whiplash and liquor. 

His 21-year career began in the muggy summers of Hermann, Missouri. It’s the type of town where you kill time in swimming holes, go to church every Sunday and eventually get a job at the local factory, because that’s what your papa did. 

After working at the plastics factory in town and leaning towards more secular beliefs, Rateliff began using music as medicine. By the age of 18, he had scooted over to Denver, Colorado, where he joined a blues band, Born in the Flood, and country rock band, The Wheel. 

Rateliff ground out music as he ground his bones. He worked as a carpenter, a gardener and in the docks at a truck depot. Meanwhile, he released two solo albums by 2010. But his music, like a mirror of his troubled times, needed more.

Cue the Night Sweats: the kind of rock your granddaddy’d be ashamed you tappin’ your toes to. Andy Wild hums in a sweet dose of saxophone. Mark Shusterman (keyboard), Joseph Pope III (bass) and Luke Mossman (guitar) tie in subtly strong rock with a pinch of Motown-meets-country, while Patrick Meese (drums) keeps a steady, catchy rhythm.

Rateliff himself has vocals you could find in a church or brothel — a sound that tugs at both ends.

Together the boys create a happy catharsis. Some of their music is serious — but hell, sometimes you just gotta have fun and laugh at what the world dishes out.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats play with Lake Street Dive 7pm Friday, Aug. 25, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; tickets $39 adv., $44 day of.