There’s a rare down moment during How To Dress Well’s exposed performance when someone nervously shouts for a drum solo. Eyes turn to the nominal ‘drummer’ of the trio on stage, and what emerges as he tinkers with his magical toolbox is nothing like a drum, rather a highly strung synthetic keyboard effect. “Hey, this is the 21st Century”, reacts Tom Krell. It’s an off the cuff remark, but it cuts to the centre of what is so dynamic about the night. Plant a 1970s gig-goer in the Soup Kitchen tonight, and they would struggle even to identify what happens on stage as a concert at all.

Tom Krell is, essentially, How To Dress Well. A nomadic philosophy graduate who has spent many years refining his own musical universe from his various bedrooms both stateside and in Europe, his debut album ‘Love Remains’ was the best reflection of his how-lo-do-you-dare-to-go lo-fi aesthetic, and put his name on many people’s best of 2010 lists. This year, the follow-up – ‘Total Loss’ – has cemented the reputation.

But those records are impossible to recreate live, and the challenge is how to recapture the essence of his music – the ghostly vocal samples, the falsetto melodies, the fragmented electro-r&b stutters and the enveloping scuzz of noise that cloaks it all – in a live environment. The simplest moments often work most effectively – a heart-stopping opening number paralyses a fidgety crowd, brings tears to eyes, and immediately fosters a unique ambience in the room that survives for the duration of his 50 minute set. With softly sparse backing, both that unnamed track and an unsettlingly beautiful ‘Suicide Dream 2’ utilise the full range of Krell’s extraordinary voice, and it is during these songs that his almost confessional willingness to bare some of his innermost emotional traumas is most apparent. You sense an implicit trust between artist and audience, as he lets us into his world.

The mood isn’t maudlin though. Krell’s interactions are natural and light-hearted, and there are high-energy songs: ‘Cold Nites’ and ‘Running Back’ allow the music to take over, and the wiry, polyrhythmic electro patterns drive the gig forward. The crowd laps up the chance to release some of the tension built up from the previous emotional heights. There are, however, tracks that don’t entirely work for whatever reason – at times Krell’s lyrics – in fact, his vocals altogether – are almost entirely lost in the mix, which is a shame, and the music at certain times is distractingly straightforward, which can become un-engaging, and for brief periods the energy levels drop.

But those moments are the exceptions. A pulsating ‘& It Was U’ offers the most dance-y breakdown of the night, before ‘Set It Right’ returns us to that intimate place where we started. This time with a galvanising backing, Krell sings to the people missing in his life – friends, family, we don’t exactly know. But we know the intensity of Krell’s intentions, and the song appears to be cathartic for him. For us, it’s an appropriate ending, bringing together the two extremes of the night’s performance. The encore is earned, and for once feels appropriate – Krell sings an acapella, finger-click-along version of Xiu Xiu’s ‘Clowne Towne’. These are the moments that you remember down the line, and How To Dress Well understands how to make an impression.

Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.