Perfection is the Enemy of Good: Night Beds @ Off Broadway
February 12, 2013
Unknown, untested geniuses are our bread and butter, here at IWTAS. We love seeing a sparkling new band a week after the debut record drops, or maybe when their record isn’t even finished yet. Watching talented musicians get their start is something we sometimes take for granted in the market we live in. Sure, The xx and Grizzly Bear aren’t coming to St. Louis this year, but we get Purity Ring twice in eight months! So I’d had my ticket to Night Beds’ show at Off Broadway Monday night for several weeks when this episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon aired:
And admit it, when Jimmy Fallon says, “See ’em live Monday in St. Louis!” you got a bit of a buzz.
I always get slightly butthurt when bands don’t bother entering St. Louis tour dates on their Last.fm tour list, but maybe St. Louis was added as the first stop on this tour because drummer Taylor DeRosa and multi instrumentalist Caleb Hickman both graduated from Westminster in Town & Country. But apparently St. Louis is cooler than Jimmy Fallon, because less than 100 people showed up, and a significant number of them appeared to be parents and grandparents of DeRosa and Hickman.
So I’m standing comfortably alone off to the side and Winston Yellen starts singing the cripplingly beautiful one-minute a cappella “Faithful Heights,” the album opener for their brand new record Country Sleep (Dead Ocean Records), which Luther and I have listened to obsessively since its release. Watching Yellen felt familiar in a way I couldn’t immediately identify. He gives off the distinct impression that he’s on stage against his will and he might bolt for the door at any moment. He’s twitchy and fidgety and uncomfortable. While he’s certainly not the first person to beg Off Broadway to turn down the stage lights, his plea sounded the most desperate. I thought about the parts in Country Sleep that seemed like charming flaws and I realized they were very intentional. Winston Yellen is a frustrated perfectionist. We smell our own.
And his agony was unfortunately highlighted by the ease and charisma of the other guys in the band. Drummer DeRosa’s facial expressions were all kid-on-Christmas ecstasy. Several times, I saw Caleb Hickman attempt to use the power of his supportive smile to comfort and carry Yellen through the show. And what’s worse, Yellen’s voice sounds fifty times stronger and more controlled live than it does on the recording. He was getting the job done! I don’t know what was going wrong, but the band quickly flipped through the songs on the setlist and Yellen gave us a 3-song warning that the set was almost over and then “we’re out of here.”
Just before the final song, a guy walked up to the stage and asked for “Even if We Try.” I’d already seen it on the set list, and often bands get annoyed when you ask them to play something they were already going to play, but Yellen smiled wide and said to him, “You read my mind,” and the guy (who happens to be my fellow music blogger and Sufjan Stevens fangirl Katie Baker‘s brother, HELLO ST. LOUIS, I LOVE YOU) thanked him and said it’s his favorite song. So Night Beds played the hell out of that song, and perfectly. And when it ended, guitar still strapped to his body, Yellen jumped off stage, bent at the waist, and barreled at the guy, headbutting him awkwardly. It was pretty much the cutest thing ever.
Add that to the part where a drunk lady at the bar started fondling the guitar tech (Abe Yellen, Winston’s little brother, who’s still in high school), and Winston had to tell him, “STOP TOUCHING HIM!” and sent a member of their crew to shoo her away. Lots of people seemed uncomfortable with Winston’s anger, but I was like, RIGHT ON, Winston! If his guitar tech was his little sister and a drunk dude was touching her, we’d be egging him on to kick the dude’s ass. He was downright polite, and I thought his non-sexist act of protection was honorable and sweet.
So here’s the thing, you guys: I don’t think Winston Yellen is a young Ryan Adams knockoff. I think Winston Yellen is Fiona Apple as a boy.
Go see his shows and enjoy them as much as you possibly can. Memorize every detail. Because I think we need him more than he needs us, and I also think he might know it. One thing’s for certain, when Jimmy Fallon thinks you’re fantastic, and Sean from Daytrotter says he’ll be shocked if you don’t blow up, you’re probably going to blow up.
Note: I couldn’t make out the lyrics to the live songs any better than I could on the recording, which bummed me out at first, because the sound system at Off Broadway is in the top two in St. Louis. I’d downloaded the album from the record label and it didn’t come with a PDF of album art and liner notes, but Katie Baker has a physical copy of the LP and she took a few pictures for me. While it doesn’t have a lyrics sheet, it has a few samples of the same style of lyric writing and there are more than a few unique word choices. I think Yellen intentionally slurs his words and leaves them unfinished when he sings. Maybe the abstractions or the archaic language he’s chosen because it feels right don’t make linear sense and he’s embarrassed? Maybe the vulnerability of the lyrics are too much to bear? I don’t know, but while I’m a lyrics-first sort of gal, Country Sleep is already one of my favorite records of the year. If the fact that I can’t make out a third of the lyrics doesn’t seem to ruin it for me, then maybe it really doesn’t matter.
I haven’t seen St. Louis’ own Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine play since a Saturday morning at Tower Grove Farmers Market a few seasons ago, and we were treated to an extra-long set last night.
I liked it very much, and I’m sorry more people didn’t get to enjoy it since their conversations were apparently way more important. The amount of coordination involved in playing a glockenspiel and a toy piano at the same time, or bow the glockenspiel while playing it simultaneously, or sing and shakers and harmonium–shit got multitasking crazy and it was pretty damned impressive. You go, Beth Bombara. I love shows with lots of instruments, and I wasn’t going to move until I saw Beth play that giant wine glass. Looking forward to the new 7″ out in April. At the earliest. I should also note, while the audience was being rude, Cassie and Beth took it in stride and continued to have a great time on stage, even as Cassie admitted that their songs were all depressing. EVEN BAD FEELS ARE GOOD. Everyone who was paying attention should thank them for being pros.
Check out the rest of Jess Luther’s rad photos of Night Beds and Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine on our Flickr page. For a different take on the night, check out Blair Stiles review over at KDHX.org. Also check out this beautiful interview Heather Browne conducted with Winston Yellen.