On the evening of Friday, November 17, the aisles of the Keller Auditorium were flooded with Nathaniel Rateliff fans hurrying to take their seats for a show they’d been anticipating for three years. The And It’s Still Alright tour holds some irony in its title: A sold-out tour in 2020 had to be suspended just nine days after it began because of, you guessed it, the pandemic. But, even with a three-year delay, the show—sold-out for a second time—must go on. And for fans, it was absolutely worth the wait.
Kevin Morby kicked off the evening. Introduced by his friend, Nathaniel Rateliff himself, he took the stage in “A Coat of Butterflies,” which is also the title of the sixth song on his 2022 album, This Is A Photograph. Morby’s music and stage presence are light and energetic; his lyrics, in contrast, leave the listener in a contemplative state of introspection. Accompanied by Eric Slick on the drums and Liam Kazar on guitar, these three humans create a mesmerizing presence with unpredictable changes in tempo that keep listeners curious as to what will come next. Showcasing a handful of Morby’s albums, they opened the show by serenading the crowd with "Sundowner," the title track from his 2020 album, followed by a myriad of songs from the album This Is A Photograph and 2017’s City Music, then closed with 2016’s "Beautiful Strangers"—listen below.
Nathaniel Rateliff took the stage with nine other musicians, including a string quartet. As if he hadn’t captured the hearts of every single person in the room already, he certainly sealed the deal when he told the room that Portland made him feel like he was amongst his people. With lights all over the stage that flickered like candles, the mood was warm and intimate. The lights were set in hand-forged iron shells made by Bear Diriwachter, a friend of Rateliff’s who passed on November 4 and who resided just south of Eugene in Cottage Grove. Rateliff acknowledged his love and appreciation for both Diriwachter and Richard Swift, who passed in 2018 and also lived in Cottage Grove. (Swift produced two of the Night Sweats' albums, 2015's self-titled effort and 2018's Tearing at the Seams.) The closing track on And It’s Still Alright, "Rush On," was written for Swift and was the only song on the album that Rateliff could "not bring myself to play.”
The backdrop was made of dancing shapes and lines in mirrored symmetry, which carried over to the stage with two drummers who framed Rateliff front and center. Throughout the evening he created intimate moments as he shared memories and stories behind the songs. The 10-piece band drove an encompassing energy from the start with songs like "Expecting To Lose" and "Shroud" from his 2010 album In Memory of Loss. As the strings stepped off stage, the three-part harmonies of Patrick Meese, Mark Shusterman and Rateliff entranced the audience on "You Need Me" and "What A Drag," followed by the vocals of the entire audience as everyone sang along to "Still Out There Running." Musicians continued to drop off the stage until Rateliff stood there by his lonesome singing "Kissing Our Friends." Before the night ended the full band returned, as did Kevin Morby for their collaborative piece, "There Is A War."
Singing songs for his friends with his friends, Nathaniel Rateliff and his tight-knit group of players radiated a warmth that welcomed Portland into its cocoon. And as the final sing-along of "Mavis" faded out, we were not eager to leave the cozy confines Rateliff had created in one of our city's larger venues. —Skylor Young