[sic] Magazine

Night Beds – Gorilla – Manchester, 6th December 2013

It’s probably the wisest decision of the night when, half way through the tender Night Beds set, frontman Winston Yellen beckons everyone forward off their seats to join him down the front. His claims of stage fright are plausible, particularly with the desperate village-fête ambiance of the room early doors, but the way he grows in confidence from this point onwards, feeding off the renewed energy of the now-closely knit crowd more than justifies the request.

It’s a trick lacklustre Bristolian support act Oliver Wilde could have done with too. Despite his recent appearance on many a ones-to-watch list, tonight’s airing of his debut album, A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Lightyears , is curiously unfashionable. He and his touring band’s precarious blend of folk, shoegaze and laptop Chillwave is simply just too inconsistent. It’s at its best when the music is left to do the talking, Wilde’s schmindie croon doing him few favours. Even then, for every reasonable fuzzy dreamer there’s a cheap electro throwaway or pared-back exercise in ambivalence.

“Flutter” gets close to being a highlight, its stabbing synth and violin combining with promise before the tracks lollops into a lunchtime nap beneath the pylons. Even at the height of the Chillwave movement though this sort of thing would only have been a footnote on someone like Chad Valley ‘s page. Understandably, Wilde finishes with “Perrett’s Brook”, a track that finally finds some tooth. It turns out the bass drum makes all the difference – much better than earlier hand-tapped drum-pad beats – and it partners the plugged-in violin and budget wall-of-noise atmospherics well to mark an impressive close.

All the same, it’s a relief when Yellen and his band take to the stage. They’re instantly captivating, the Nashville resident’s pedal steel so warm and inviting when it could easily be cold given the confessional catharsis of his songwriting. His voice too – as yet too young for the ravages of smoke and rye to have taken their toll – is on swoonsome form, a fine counterpoint to the rampant reverb that vibrates the corrugated roof of the mid-size venue during early tracks.

As per his promising debut LP, Country Sleep , tonight’s set-list varies between trad- and alt-country structures – sometimes minimal to the point of a cappella, always savvy enough to know when to let pregnant silence rule. As such, Yellen doesn’t disappoint with an intimate performance, which culminates during a rootsy cover of Gillian Welch ‘s “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”, the band all taking to the crowd unplugged and surrounded by rapt faces and camera screens.


And Yellen continues to dig the harmonies out of heartbreak the whole night. “Even If We Try” is just lovely, the ever-lively “Ramona” bringing plenty of toe-tap to proceedings thanks to its carefully picked guitar lines. Smoky sax creeps in elsewhere to deliver a bit of edge and, continuing this theme, Yellen switches to the piano-keyboard for the encore, extending the natural lounge-jazz vibe of “I Wanted You In August” into a joyful bouncy jam.

There’s a tinge of sadness to tonight’s show however and it comes to a head with Yellen stating that it’ll most likely be a “long time” ‘til he’s back in Manchester. When quizzed by the crowd he jokes it’ll be “2024” before a new Night Beds album can be expected, adding more seriously that he’s getting “too old” for this. Let’s hope it’s just road weariness talking because, otherwise, Yellen has given it his all tonight and he’s too close to something truly special to let it slip now.