I’m going to be honest, August has been a hellish month for me, and I did not want to go out the night that How To Dress Well was playing The Echoplex in LA. The thought of taking an entire evening off to do nothing and sleep was very tempting, but Tom Krell was advertising a night of reciprocal positive vibes via his Twitter, and I definitely needed the positivity in my life.
How To Dress Well makes agonizingly earnest music that has innovative production value. Krell sings about death, isolation, and the pitfalls of love to smooth R&B melodies, glitchy pop, and distorted beats. In the past, he’s obscured his voice, but with his newest album, “What Is This Heart?”, he removes all those layers of sound and opens up both vocally and lyrically. Interested in hearing how that translates live? Yeah, so was I.
Suffice to say, How To Dress Well did not disappoint. When I talked to Krell a week or two ago, he was excited about playing in LA at The Echoplex and to be performing tracks from his new album. As soon as he hit the stage, I (and the rest of the crowd) could feel that excitement, and we responded in turn. Positive vibes abounded.
How To Dress Well’s set started with “A Power” (which we also discussed), one of my favorite songs from the new album and a sorely needed reminder that yes, life can be cruel, but there’s much more to it than that. From there he went into “Face Again,” another “What Is This Heart?” favorite and then “Repeat Pleasure,” the album’s poppy lead single. Krell wasn’t kidding about how much he enjoyed playing from his new album and went on to perform almost all of it over the course of the evening.
Throughout the night, he talked to the audience about the basketball shorts he was wearing, his old AIM screen name (thetom12 if you’re still IMing), and how bummed he was that his San Diego audience was mostly unresponsive. He also informed us that that night was the four-year anniversary of a close friend’s death before he launched into “Very Best Friend” as a tribute.
Later on in the evening, Krell dedicated “Suicide Dream 1” to that same friend, saying that the song fit his body so perfectly, it could be his soul. He followed that, very appropriately, with “Set It Right.” For me, that was the moment that hit a little too close to home. It takes a certain bravery to be so frank about death and to put those feelings up to an audience of strangers. That he put so much raw emotion into the performance, pulling away from the microphones and losing most of the instrumentation to sing acapella, is testament to his artistry. Once again, it was a reminder that there are ways to deal with life’s blows.
How To Dress Well is still evolving. Krell fumbled on “Precious Love” and “Words I Don’t Remember” (yet another favorite!), but he played the missteps off well, and I don’t think anyone actually cared. It was clear that he was doing something he loved as he performed, and more than that, it was clear his audience was excited to see him, which only made the experience better.
Krell advertised/asked for positive vibes, and his show at The Echoplex definitely delivered. By the end of the night, I felt like part of something bigger than myself. I was still going to have to go home and sort myself out, but for the hour or so that he played, I got to be part of a crowd, part of a support group supporting itself as much it was supporting How To Dress Well.
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