How To Dress Well | The Echoplex (Los Angeles, CA) | August 22, 2014 |
There’s a good chance that you will do one of three things at a How To Dress Well show: dance, cry or make out. Preferably with someone you actually know on that last one.
The cool and dungeon-esque dark of the Echoplex was as fine a setting as any for what was about to play on its stage as well as the crowd about to witness it. Tom Krell had brought his alias, How To Dress Well, to a city that generally does. Dress well, that is. And there was (and always is) part of an endearing dichotomy present with Krell: the basketball shorts and, tonight, his new and somewhat squeaky Kobe Bryant Nikes.
The contradictory aesthetic between a moniker like How To Dress Well and performing in sportswear is just one of several appreciable aspects of Krell’s musical presence. His very particular gift is in the emission and transmission of bluer shades of emotional blackness, a myriad of his life’s loving and melancholy moments but damned he doesn’t ply them full of sensual pop and electronic R&B to a point of almost pristine gracefulness. And he did so to a room full of bodies and souls whom Krell – for the most part – had complete control over. I say ‘for the most part’ because there seemed to be no controlling the intermittent outbursts of Tom-love – often from a random male voice in the crowd.
With a backdrop of drop dead gorgeous lighting/visuals being effective and affective auditory reflections (courtesy of one talented Nick Reed), there were moments of reveal. Whether Krell spoke of a song’s genesis, how much more welcoming the LA crowd was compared to the previous night in San Diego, how a song makes him “feel beautiful inside” or he was letting an open and easy smile stretch across his face, Krell showed his affable, ‘guy next door’ self throughout the eve, but only until it was time to sing. The first three songs came from his latest album, “What Is This Heart?,” with “A Power” making a compelling opening shot followed by “Face Again” and a highly pleasurable “Repeat Pleasure” triggering the first wave of dance. With two microphones as conduits (one flush with effect/reverb, the other dry), progressing through the night meant watching Krell shift in and out of himself with eyes closed and fists clenching/unclenching those mics as he dialed in, attacking each song with a mixture of abandon and concentrated care. It’s like he “goes there” – wherever “there” is. And while half of you may want to know, the other half thinks it best to leave it alone.
With each subsequent HTDW album, Krell has exposed himself – vocally – and his specific heartaches more and more; almost to a point of discomforting transparency. But he has also upped his game, making his thematic, weighty and adult sexy-time art more sonically mesmerizing and accessible (you can think of a dozen reasons why this stuff shouldn’t work live and yet it does). His sheer falsetto tugs on all things Maxwell and Prince-like allowing him to dream-weave, doing so with spacious and ambient grooves, thumping beats and some shiver-inducing high notes, no matter how bad the story being told – and shit can get pretty dark and confused in How To Dress Well-land. Because as resounding as “Set It Right” was, you cannot ignore the literal roll call of loss mid-song (cue one young woman’s, “Damn, but he made me cry”). But live shows can also bear the most humorous and human moments [read:mistakes] and playing Krell’s humanity bare is his target. It was as if he set himself and the band up for failure by introducing sweetly sensual “Precious Love” (a song many babies will be made to) as a song they only recently began performing live and, sure enough, they fucked up the intro to the point that a laughing Krell ordered a do-over. And actually forgetting the second verse to “Words I Don’t Remember” was almost too precious but no harm, no foul because the wickedly soulful crush of the vocal bridge made it all better and it earned the Echoplex a bonus song in “What You Wanted.”
For the night to continue on was actually what everyone wanted, but leaving the Echoplex crowd with that expressed ache should impress upon Krell that he should return to relieve it sooner than later.