The other day I heard a startling statistic - over 200 people move to Austin every day. As a native Austinite, this doesn’t rattle me in any way… it just gives me a sense of unease for the future of my city. There’s a reason that droves of people are attracted enough to this energy to move here every day, but will too many people dilute that essence, that thing about Austin that gets into your bones? I don’t know. But there are certain spots that keep it intact… there are certain names that alleviate the stress that our city is dissolving into a myriad of condominium parking lots and fancy hotel high rises.
One of those names is Stubb’s. As long as it’s still here, Austin is still Austin.
My brother is one of the foolish people who actually moved out of Austin, and he’s been regretting it for two years. For his birthday, I knew I wanted to take him to see live music. Where else would I go but the place that you can 1. Be outside 2. Listen to great music, and most importantly, 3. Walk ten feet in any direction and buy an ice cold Lonestar tallboy? With two tickets to the Thursday night show at Stubb’s, I had cinched my place at the top as Sister of the Year, and, in one fell swoop, cured all his homesick blues.
The opener was Israel Nash. I have a habit of classifying people immediately by deciding which two famous people hypothetically got together to create them: (Thom Yorke looks like Tilda Swinton had a one-night stand with a David Bowie look-alike, Gary Clark Jr. would be the by-product of a passionate affair between Jimi Hendrix and actual voodoo magic, and so on and so forth) Israel Nash is a combination of eras: 1973 Robert Plant, Billy Gibson’s beard, and a pair of bellbottom jeans were all equally responsible for this folk-rock phenomena who could have just as likely been cast on Dazed and Confused. While I was still in my head allowing these random neuroses to take over, my brother leaned in and commented, “They have a really inviting groove.” And in 6 words, he summed them up. This is very indicative of our personalities.
Israel Nash was an inviting groove, his 5 song set was borderline hypnotic. My body swayed from side to side, my arms loose, my face upturned to the sinking sun through the oak trees above. Earlier that day, the nation had mourned the loss of one of our musical icons: Prince was dead. And when Nash wrapped up his set with a killer rendition of “Purple Rain” woven right into one of his songs… it was all we could do to not rush the stage.
After a short gap between the two shows, the sun had completed its cycle for the day. It had sunk past the horizon but left a trace of light pink light that faded slowly into the sky. It was balmy and sticky, it was dark and quiet, and it was time for the Nathaniel Rateliff to play.
Before you see anyone take the stage, the lights come on and they’re playing. The band leads with a “music first” attitude, and it’s palpable. They’re not here to work the crowd. They’re here to jam the fuck out. First up is I Need Never Get Old, and it’s like someone hit an energy switch. The crowd of 400-500 people went from static to jumping, dancing, moving, shaking, within seconds. There’s plenty of entertainment onstage, too, a line of brass and horns behind Nathaniel to the left is moving in the classic old motown way - synchronized dance. There are jazz hands, two steps, and shimmies done by grown men who are simultaneously blasting away on trombones and trumpets. It’s fabulous.
Immediately, it’s evident that each member of this band can play. I don’t mean they can play… I mean they can play. Luke Mossman shredded the electric guitar so hard I was surprised he didn’t pop a string. Saxophonist Andy Wild stopped the crowd with his lengthy and vibrant solos, and Mark Shusterman controlled the tempo of our heartbeats with the keys. It was mesmerizing, soulful, and sweaty. The band’s name no longer seemed like a coincidence but a promise, and they had delivered.
The swift success this band has seen since their eponymous debut in the summer of 2015 has not altered their course or gone to their heads. Yes, maybe they’ve been on Jimmy Kimmel a handful of times and shared stages with names like Bon Iver and The Lumineers, but these guys are about the bare bones necessity of filling a space with people and inviting them to lose themselves. And if you’re going to lose yourself for a night, forget the bullshit and the boring jobs and the bills and just live… Stubb’s is just about the most perfect place you can think of.
P.S. And yes, since you’re wondering, their encore song was S.O.B.