Review: Night Beds – Soup Kitchen, Manchester

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Since recently releasing his debut album, Country Sleep, Winston Yellen, aka Night Beds, has been reaping the rewards of his highly-praised record. Though this was his first time in Manchester, he had announced a huge December show at Gorilla just days before – his management clearly recognising that Yellen is set to become one of America’s next great singer-songwriters, alongside the likes of John Fullbright. Moreover, just like Fullbright last week, Yellen hit the legendary Later…With Jools Holland stage on Tuesday, exposing his talent to a much wider audience who may have initially tuned in to see Primal Scream doing what they do averagely.

This evening at The Soup Kitchen in Manchester, Yellen was preceded by Farewell J.R., another solo act backed by musical chums, delivering beautiful harmonies and heartstring-tugging lyrics. Nick Rayner certainly knows how to do emotive, with his voice often echoing the painfully wounded whispers of Keaton Henson. However, his band’s input manages to hold him back from sounding cripplingly tender, with a great blend of swooning vocal arrangements and thunderous, grandiose drums. A great set that deserved a better reception from some rather chatty and disinterested attendees.

Fortunately, the crowd fell deafly silent once Yellen and band took to the stage a half hour later. Without introducing himself or his fellow bandmates, he grabbed hold of the mic and silenced the talkers with a stunning a capella version of album-opener Faithful Heights, setting one heck of a precedent for the remainder of the evening.

And my goodness what a voice! The Soup Kitchen is essentially a basement, not too dissimilar to one where I’ve attended early-hour parties in the bottom of a student flat, and essentially feels like you’re watching your mate’s band play – there’s not so much a stage, rather a marginally raised area on one side of the room. This can probably be a bit aggravating for some acts trying to gage the audiences attention, much like Farewell J.R. struggled with earlier on. However, in the case of Night Beds, you could hear a pin-drop. Yellen’s voice is husky yet controlled, with the ability to soar well beyond the basement venue to the streets, but equally as whispered and captivating when he chooses.

Second on the set list was the bouncy-before-mellow Ramona, probably the most known Night Beds track and the most upbeat. On this occasion it’s lacking the punch that can be heard on the album version, but clearly represents Yellen’s more joyful side, seeing him roam around the stage, getting lost in the music and enjoying his time on stage with friends…and also his Dad, who stands at the side, no doubt proudly.

Many of his remaining tracks are less buoyant, but always majestic. The gorgeous and emotive Even If We Try emphasises the extraordinary talent of Yellen, with desperately troubled lyrics along with some wonderful harmonies from his bandmates. New single 22 rolls along effortlessly, whilst Lost Springs shows inspiration both lyrically and instrumentally from Jeff Buckley. A couple of covers later, including a knockout snippet of Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Springs that flows into album-closer Tenn, Night Beds reach the end of their set, in an hour that has flown by far too quickly for our liking!

Yellen returns to the stage after chants and whoops, the first time he’s been cheered back on stage, he claims. His on-stage presence has been in fact, far less nervous than one had presumed, perhaps due to having his friends and family around him. But nobody can knock his frank honesty and obvious appreciation of the sizeable crowd and our upbeat response – which, of course, is justly deserved. For this final track, he plays solo, bringing out a slightly more shy and hesitant side, for his performance of Borrowed Time. It’s one that again emphasises his captivating voice and illustrates why he’s being viewed as the next best thing out of Nashville.