Last November musicOMH joined a handful of people in the basement of the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell to watch Nashville’s Winston Yellen – aka Night Beds – play his first London show. A nervous, almost painfully shy young man, he none the less made small talk as he knocked back a few drinks and strummed his way through songs as though we were gathered in his living room. But even then, his voice had an effortless, gravelly quality that silenced the room and made us fall for him.
Fast forward 13 months and the man on stage at the Scala is almost unrecognisable, as he makes easy chit chat with the sizable audience, who sing along and cheer at the opening bars of their favourite songs.
It’s a fate that may well await tonight’s support act, Oliver Wilde, whose gloom-laden electronic pop looks to Daniel Johnston, Eels and the Flaming Lips for inspiration. He’s an intense chap; woozing and delicate, as he leads a four piece backing band through a set that draws in those propping up the bar next door. Definitely worth arriving early for.
Wilde makes Night Beds’ sound seem really quite simple. His debut album, Country Sleep, was released back in February and the story goes that young Yellen, down in the dumps having lost his job and his girlfriend, packed a bag and ran off to Nashville, where he rented the former home of Johnny Cash and June Carter. There he wrote his first LP, an album with Nashville at its very core; loneliness, heartache and nostalgia are its key themes, woven around warm, simple orchestration, with slices of classic country thrown in.
It’s the more knotted, rootsy songs – that position themselves somewhere between an upbeat Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes – that tonight’s crowd seem to favour. The likes of Ramona and 22, with their rumbling melodies, are treated like old friends, especially with Yellen’s expanded band, which now numbers four, and even boasts a saxophone. Expect the band to become a permanent fixture of future shows, as the new tracks previewed tonight hint at bigger ambitions and a fuller sound. One in particular, Corner, sees him clawing towards stadiums, as he ditches his guitar, flinging out his arms and feeding off his band, throwing some distinctly Chris Martin-like shapes.
It’s these new songs that seem to excite Yellen – and why not, he’s been playing the other stuff relentlessly for over a year – but sadly this new, bigger sound knocks his vocal from centre stage, and that’s what Night Beds is all about. The show’s highlight comes half way through, when he leaps off the stage and into the middle of the audience for a rendition of Gillian Welch‘s The Way The Whole Thing Ends. It’s another reminder of just how precious his voice is. He moves his mouth how others whisper; without any strain or facial contortion, it’s warm, soothing, world weary and absolutly perfect. And the range! He flits between falsetto and near baritone instantly. With a voice like his, he doesn’t need anything else.
His encore comes courtsey of the tear-jerking Wanted You In August, which sees him take to the piano, before a solo version of Borrowed Time. “I won’t be back for a long long time,” he admits – and we can’t help but hope that some time back in Nashville will remind him of his strengths in time for album number two.