With a history spanning over 150 years, The Ulster Hall on Belfast’s Bedford Street has seen its share of remarkable moments. Mick Jagger strutted the stage, tattooed punks pogoed, the somber strains of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ first graced a live stage, and legendary acts like Rory Gallagher and Van Morrison aired the blues. In 2018, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats bring a little bit of all that and more to the old stage.

Rateliff is something of an old hand at this. He can holler like Muddy Waters, moonwalk like James Brown, and throw down a hook-laden chorus of which Chuck Berry would have been proud. The big man from the Mile-High City is the great white hope of contemporary soul.

The opening track on the Ulster Hall stage is something of a swing and a miss; low volume vocals and perhaps a more tender start to proceedings that a well-liquored Belfast crowd are anticipating. In a way, its reminiscent of Rateliff’s career to date. Few now remember the more tranquil acoustic days of earnest singer/songwriter material before The Night Sweats came to be in 2015.

Longtime collaborator Joseph Pope III lays down some driving basslines, the foundation on which the Hammond and horns build. There’s a real dynamic in the set, the brass pomp giving way to real impassioned tenderness. At times, the softer moments get lost in the Friday night party but like the great bandleaders of old, Nathaniel Rateliff continues to command the stage. ‘Wasting Time’, in particular, seems positively hymnal as Rateliff clutches at the cross around his neck in front of that big old pipe organ gracing the stage.

The set list is firmly built on the latest record ‘Tearing At The Seams’. Tracks like ‘Say It Louder’ and ‘Hey Mama’ ease in next to older staples of The Night Sweats’ repertoire. ‘Hey Mama’ has all the drama of the likes of Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’ but Rateliff looks his sharpest when channeling The Maritime Hotel era Van, growling out the blues while the band keeps the beat.

‘S.O.B’ is unmistakably the song which put Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats on the map. It’s also the tune that most in Belfast have come to hear. In the midst of their own swigging and slurping of lager and bourbon, there’s time for the assembled convivial congregation to join in that well-known rousing chorus. Triumphant arms raised aloft, the band exit stage left, glistening in sweat and beaming with all the enjoyment of an act at the top of their game.

As the crowd continue to holler out refrains of ‘S.O.B’, Rateliff and Co. return for a short, sweet encore including a devastating rendition of Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’. Should this burly bluesman and band come through your town, put your makeup on and your hair up pretty. This gamble has paid off.