Dry the River and Nathaniel Rateliff at Electric Owl – October 26, 2014

Well, a bit of an absence in blog posts. You can blame the big summer whale watch season for that! A few things have happened since then, so I will be putting up a couple of new posts in reverse chronological order…starting with this.

I had first heard Dry the River during one of my semi-annual down-the-Youtube-rabbithole nights, where one thing leads to another and all of a sudden you have a handful of new favourite songs, and if you’re really lucky, an entire band’s worth of music you can latch firmly onto. Such was the way with this group. After finding them as a ‘related song’ to a different band that had a song with the word ‘River’ in its title, I was directed to Dry the River’s tune “No Rest” and was immediately floored. I promise it isn’t just because there were (dead) birds in the video. Luck befell me as I instantly searched for more information on them and discovered they were popping into Vancouver just a few weeks later. That was all the way back in 2012 now. Last year I almost got a second taste of them live as I was able to shuffle my travel plans around and spend an unplanned day in Glasgow to see a show of theirs, but sadly it was cancelled a few days before the gig. And I never got a refund! Blast. Oh well – Glasgow was pretty, and I guess I’d never have gone there otherwise.

Fast forward to 2014, a new album, and a new tour… A one-two punch of Dry the River over two days was more than I had seen of them ever, never mind in the last two years, and was sufficient-yet-not-sufficient. I could attend a show by these guys every night and be pretty darn happy with that. Myself and my concert-going companion for the two shows were a little remiss that we hadn’t extended our road trip to include Portland one day earlier, but as it stood, we made a journey to Seattle to watch this deeply, warmly, heart-achingly stunning UK band before catching them on home turf in Vancouver, all in support of their new album, Alarms In The Heart. 

I would never have thought there would be such a huge gulf between the audiences in these two cross-border, neighbouring towns. Again, I hadn’t seen these guys play a show in about two years, so aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure they get no radio play up here, and the only other people I know who know/adore them are people I introduced to their music, I have little concept of their popularity or its growth in those 24 months. In Seattle, the show was to be held at the Tractor Tavern, a venue I had never been to before in the Ballard area north of downtown. At the last minute, I opted out of shooting, as I had no idea about the lighting situation in the venue, and with a torrential on-and-off downpour underway, not wanting to risk the gear on the walk from our cozy Air BnB room about half an hour away. This would prove to be a good and bad decision.

The first thing we wanted to do was explore the super-happening street that the Tractor Tavern sits on and grab a bite to eat. On approach to the room, we bumped headlong into part of the band, so at least we knew we were in the right spot. Following a collection of brussels sprouts, blue cheese, butter lettuce, pizza and beer, we returned to the venue to find it already very packed, and this would increase to seemingly near bursting before Dry the River took the stage. Shooting would have been a challenge due to the surprisingly tall and pushy crowd, but the lighting was outstanding. Hum, haw.

Based on what I was seeing here, I thought surely word had gotten out, even if it was off the airwaves, and this band was finally getting some well-deserved recognition on this side of the pond. Even though the audience was a bit on the chatty, obnoxious, drink-spilly side, they were enthusiastic and, well, present. We watched the show one person removed from the feet of Matt Taylor. It was glorious… everything about this band melts together perfectly. Incredible harmonies, soaring music, bursts of vigour at just the right intervals. If you have not yet heeded my advice on listening to some music, you well ought to. The elevator’s not quite on the ground floor, but it’s not too far up yet – might as well get on now.

With that show still firmly in memory and causing some manner of full-body shivers, brand new vinyl tucked under an arm, we were homeward bound to Vancouver. There had been a venue change a short time before, which I figured may have had to do with capacity, and Seattle’s crowd seemed to have corroborated that fact. Of course, it was a Sunday in Vancouver, and as it turns out, the crowd was pretty sparse all night. While the crowd was much more enraptured and respectful of those on stage, they did hang back and leave immediately after. The lighting for their set was also the standard ultra-dim blood-in-the-water pink Electric Owl glow – not ideal for shooting, but hey, we work with what we’ve got. I was oddly nervous about shooting this show – it’s been a long build-up – and considering the cards in my hand, it worked out relatively all right.

As the night before, lead vocalist Peter Liddle emerged from sidestage barefoot, managing to avoid being tangled in the cords along the floor. Flanked by guitarist Taylor and bassist Scott Miller, with Jon Warren behind on drums and new-ish keyboard/occasional-violin player whom I know only as Pat, there’s a heck of a collection of flowing locks and beards on stage. At times those locks and the bodies they are attached to are whirling madly about their corners of the stage, but most of the time, they are calmly writhing at the mics, combining a range of voices into buttery harmonies worthy of angels. It’s the kind of music that raises hairs on the back of your neck, music for a good drink and a cool night. Music befitting of late October. The set was identical to the one in Seattle, aside from a lack of a gap between the main set and the encore, which is a feature of the set I fear may be the result of the puny audience, but perhaps they were simply pressed for time. Following the set, the members remained around and approachable, and after a quick chat, we left them to the night and their first leg of a long haul to their next gig in Minnesota. I really don’t understand how Seattle, and a run of sold-out or near sold-out shows in the US turns into a paltry turnout in this corner of Canada. Perhaps for now they’ll just be our little secret. Do yourself a favour and listen up.

Part 2 of this show, working backwards. Nathaniel Rateliff and his delightful bandmates were a big, lovely surprise over the past couple of days! As a big fan of Dry the River, I was not going to miss shows by that band in Seattle and Vancouver, but as it turns out, they were basically co-headlining shows between DtR and Denver-based Nathaniel Rateliff. Rateliff was in the middle of the bill each night, with a different local opener starting the evenings off. I went into the Seattle gig camera-free, not knowing the venue lighting situation, the crowd, a few other factors. What this allowed me to do was absorb the show much better, though that was difficult for the most part since these musicians, while being quite powerful at times, were overall fairly mellow. Unfortunately, the crowd spent a lot of time chatting, particularly through the earlier parts of the evening. I missed most of the banter from Rateliff all night.

Anyways, the music itself, a rip-roaring, country-kissed vocal poured out of Rateliff across equally countryish and jangly guitars, keyboards, the occasional harmonica… the guy oozed cool and passion. The ballads were sweet and heartfelt, and when they kicked it up a notch, it really kicked, pulling in some elements of blues and good old-fashioned foot-stomping. It was, in short, a helluva lot of fun. In Vancouver the next night, the experience was repeated, albeit in an easier-to-register way thanks to a quieter audience. As I began poking around the interwebs to find out a little more about Rateliff, I became astounded at his huge following through the US and abroad, and at his chameleonesque assortment of projects and influences. He is a surprising man who I certainly hope to see and hear a lot more of.

More on Dry the River: https://www.facebook.com/drytheriver
Find out more about Nathaniel Rateliff: https://www.facebook.com/nathanielrateliff

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