Smile Politely

Night Beds impressive despite poor turnout

I really like the band Night Beds. They showed up on my radar near the beginning of the year, I guess, right around the time that their record Country Sleep was released. I kept hearing good things about them, whether it was friends on Twitter who caught a show here or there and loved it, or positive press from Pitchfork and NPR. It follows, then that over the last few months, I’ve spent quite a lot of time listening to their stuff and my interview with Winston Yellen a few weeks ago sealed the deal. Night Beds is a good band with legs — and it seemed like they were on the rise.

So, when Yellen and I spoke, I congratulated him on this success — “all of the recent attention” were, I think, my words. He scoffed. It was an appreciative scoff, I think; he was gracious. But then he said, “Man, we’re broke!” I had forgotten, momentarily, that good press and a few tweets do not a successful, financially solvent band make. I mean, good press helps, I guess — sometimes it starts with good press. But in the end, it really just reveals what a few people are saying. Success is equated a bit differently: bodies at shows, adequate record sales, bodies at shows.

There were only a few bodies at the show last night at Mike ‘N Molly’s — twenty, tops. The circumstances were dismal. The University isn’t in regular session, which means that the potential for students in the audience is greatly diminished. Summers in Champaign-Urbana can be slooow. Also, Yellen and his crew had been booked at Mike ‘N Molly’s on the bar’s hallowed trivia night, which always means really late band set times. Sigh.

The opener, Chris Davies and Patrick Lyke’s Finer Feelings, didn’t start until 10:30, Jenny O. played around 11 p.m., which put Night Beds on stage at around 11:45 (thirty minutes earlier than scheduled, I might add). I spoke, briefly, with Yellen after their set and, again, he was gracious but visibly disappointed. “I’m glad you came — but we cut the set short. It’s really late. People have to work tomorrow.” That was around 12:30 a.m. Not that bad, I suppose, but in a sleepy town like C-U, a late-start on a weeknight is almost a guarantee for a weak showing. For a band like Night Beds with so much promise and potential, that reality kind of sucks. 

Their shortened set was still pretty glorious. They opened with the two opening tracks on the record, “Faithful Heights” and “Ramona,” and from there moved into some of the other stronger songs on the record: “Even If We Try,” “Cherry Blossoms,” and the more upbeat “22.” Each song was well manicured and filled out nicely by the five-piece ensemble. Yellen’s songwriting is loose, but packs an emotional punch, especially when his voice soars into his higher register. Reviewers don’t talk a lot about pitch these days, but when a vocalist can sing in tune, live (especially on those higher notes), it says a lot about the talent and discipline of the artist. It’s way more difficult than it appears to be.

So, despite my disappointment of seeing yet another band in C-U that deserve more love and attention than they seem to be getting, Night Beds made up for it with a strong set and big hearts.

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