Review: Night Beds stun with stirring harmonies at New World Brewery in Tampa
Winston Yellen sings like he ought to have a beard.
Oh, sure, he’s got a little fuzz around his cheeks, just enough to soften his intense back-country stare. But it’s nothing compared to the mountain-man whiskers possessed by Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold, or Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ Alex Ebert.
And Yellen, the singer of Nashville-by-way-of-Colorado alt-country group Night Beds, belongs in that company. His ethereal warble is a stunning instrument, and when it’s on full display, as it was Thursday at New World Brewery in Ybor City, it’s impossible not to swoon.
It’s not every day that New World hosts an artist who has recently played both Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Later...With Jools Holland, but dozens of fans packed the patio for Night Beds, a crowd that seemingly surprised Yellen (“You beat Champaign; that was six. You beat Des Moines; that was 12. So good job, Tampa Bay.”), but which prompted a moving and interactive set of folk, gospel and indie rock.
Night Beds are a band built around Yellen’s voice, which, in addition to the indie-rock crooners listed above, also calls to mind Roy Orbison, Ryan Adams and Gomez’s Ben Ottewell. They wordlessly opened the show with the a cappella hymn Faithful Heights before heading straight into Ramona, a rousing embrace of a number that’s also the band’s best known single. It seemed like half of every song was sung sans accompaniment, or with as little music as possible, just to showcase Yellen's vocal ability.
But even without Yellen at center stage, Night Beds would be worth watching, thanks to the devastating harmonies and pitch-perfect musicianship of the other three members, guitarist Juan Solorzano, lap guitarist and organist Caleb Hickman and drummer Abe Yellen, Winston’s little brother. Borrowed Time’s three-part harmonies were a triumph, and Winston, Solorzano and Hickman’s guitars swayed with and sang to one another.
Midway through the set, everyone but Solorzano set aside their instruments for a cover of Gillian Welch’s The Way The Whole Thing Ends. Abe and Hickman came out to harmonize with Yellen while Solorzano plucked softly in the background. It was part church choir, part campfire singalong, and the effect was chilling. But it wasn’t the only time Night Beds stripped a song down to its bones. For an encore, Winston Yellen killed the PA, grabbed an acoustic guitar and moved to the darkened center of the patio to perform an entirely acoustic version of Tenn in the round. Fingers snapped and toes tapped on the wooden planks as Yellen wrung every ounce of emotion from his guitar and voice.
They’re so new to the game they don’t even have a Wikipedia page yet, but it won’t be long before the world catches on to Night Beds. Maybe a beard will speed things along.
Before Night Beds, California singer-songwriter Jenny O delivered a solo acoustic set. “Sandwiched between two rock and roll bands, I feel a little insecure about it,” she said. “But I’m going to play as hard as I can.”
Not unlike Michelle Branch and Alanis Morrissette, Jenny O has a polished, delicate voice made for pop music, as showcased on her 2013 debut album Automechanic. But she can go dark, a la Liz Phair, on songs like Lazy Jane, a brooding electric number punctuated by dischordant twangs; and Well OK Honey, a quirky taste of mod ’70s swing. And when she goes a little country, the results are a lot of fun, as on the five-and-dime Dixieland number Hey Neighbor and upbeat, hopeful folk song In Our Hands.
St. Petersburg’s Alexander and the Grapes opened the show less than 24 hours after returning from a tour. In addition to tracks from last year’s Hemispheres, they performed some newer, louder songs that singer Alexander Charos were inspired in places by ’90s alt-rock. You can hear touches of Wilco, Weezer, the Pixies and Death Cab for Cutie on Keep Trying.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*