Nathaniel Rateliff’s strong will towers over Red Rocks.
On March 2, 2020 Nathaniel Rateliff kicked off his sold-out nine-month tour supporting his acclaimed solo album ‘And It’s Alright’. His band was more than capable of hanging with Rateliff’s own stellar musicianship, from the most stripped-back moments of just voice and guitar, all the way to powerful ten-piece arrangements that even included a string quartet brought along for all the shows. But only nine days in, the tour was cancelled.
The footage here was shot in the midst of these opening nine days and sees Rateliff performing a slightly more urgent and insistent take of ‘All or Nothing’ from the album ‘And It’s Alright’. With less than two hundred people allowed into the ten thousand capacity venue, Rateliff and the band must have been aware that the tour was in serious jeopardy by this point. But you wouldn’t know it from this commanding performance. Facing row upon row of empty seats, Rateliff appears composed and resolute despite the pandemic’s devastation of his much-anticipated tour.
Even against the towering walls of Red Rocks, Rateliff easily conjures up an intimacy that somehow seems at odds with his huge, growl of a voice. It all starts bare-boned, with the insistent throb of his thumb on the bass strings of his acoustic guitar. The opening vocal line sets the defiant tone, “I’ll come back to you as // A strong will tower to devour”. The song builds steadily as the band plays with perfect restraint around Rateliff’s vocal and guitar. Two thirds through, when both drummers – yes, both drummers – come in, the tightly controlled power of the whole band is revealed. Then, as the other players drop away, Rateliff’s guitar is left to play out to the eerily quiet amphitheatre.
Director Rett Rogers, DOPs Jasper Gray and Will Gardner, and Editor Matt Wade defly balance both the intensity and intimacy of Rateliff’s performance with the stunning location. The camera work and editing is beautifully paced throughout and it will be a comfort to all those who missed out on what promised to be a memorable tour at least have something of such substance to ease their disappointment.
This powerful performance points to the live album from these shows being another deserved hit for Rateliff. There’s an impressive strength in his rich voice that is matched by this whole performance. You know he’ll be back, “A strong will tower to devour”. Until then, the forthcoming live album, ‘Red Rocks 2020’, is set for release on July 16 via Stax Records and it looks like it’s going to go a long way to tiding his audience over until they see him again in the flesh.