How To Dress Well

How To Dress Well


How To Dress Well, aka Tom Krell, has come a long way. From the ‘mysterious’ bedroom R&B genius of his thrilling, lo-fi debut Love Remains six years ago, to his almost bombastic, shiny, pop-indebted album from earlier this year Care, he’s evolved and changed into something resembling a pop star, all be it one who doesn’t particularly worry the charts too much. And as Krell sings on ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’, ‘change is hard’. Some people don’t get Krell’s journey from a place on Love Remains where his voice was cloaked in so many effects and so far down the mix that you couldn’t make out the lyrics, to someone who sings ‘when you walked in, oh/I felt my heart go right into you’, voice front and centre, naked emotion out on show for all to see and hear. Those people are wrong, as Krell’s evolution has been signposted from album to album – some of the tracks on his third (and my personal favourite) effort What Is This Heart could be recorded by huge superstars and they would be massive worldwide hits (seriously, listen to ‘Words I Don’t Remember’ and tell me it wouldn’t have fit on Rihanna’s ANTI). HTDW has always had RnB pop sensibilities at his heart, it’s just that the way he writes and produces songs skews them in complex ways that that means they don’t always sound like pop songs.

He’s here with his band in Manchester’s Band on the Wall for the last stop on this current tour, having been ‘really depressed and not slept’ over the last day, but you can’t tell. The way he performs is like he’s doing each song for the first time, pouring all he’s got into everything he’s doing, raw emotion on display throughout. He punctuates the set with tales about how the songs were written, what stories they tell, and he’s honest, open and sincere in a way I haven’t seen a performer be for a long time – it must be exhausting for him to do, night after night, but its mesmerising to watch from the audience.  His set is comprised of mostly songs from Care, and he bounces around the stage goofily dancing with a huge grin on his face during ‘country and western song, although you can’t tell until I start dancing’ ‘Burn It Up’, which is a joy to behold.

The most intense song of the set comes in the shape of Care standout ‘The Ruins’. In an extended monologue, Krell tells us that he wrote it about a time he saw his grandma reacting to the news that her friend was in a plane crash, one that he remembers seeing over and over again on TV news. She dropped the phone, and Krell tells us he can remember thinking that the floor came up to meet the phone, and that he’s always had a sense of an altered reality. The song is dark, all stuttering synths with Krell spiting lyrics almost like a rapper, and the power of his performance it almost overwhelming to watch, it’s absolutely stunning. This is followed by ‘Suicide Dream 2’, a song from his debut about the death of a close friend, which Krell promised to sing every night of every tour (he estimates he’s done it over 500 times), yet it sounds like this is the first time he’s every sung it, pouring everything into it, singing passages unaccompanied at the front of the stage without a mic, pulling the audience into an almost uncomfortably intimate place. It’s beautiful, and despite the subject matter it’s weirdly uplifting to watch him lay his art and soul out like this for us to witness.

It’s not all intense at all, far from it in fact, it’s mainly 90 mins of uplifting, shit-eating-grin-on-my-face good times. In the intro to ‘& It Was U’, he tells us the band have a 90 second, 8 minute, and 15 minute version of the song, conducting a straw poll of the crowd as to which version we want. We vote for the 15 min version, naturally, and they manage about 8 or 9, the venue turned into a mass of writhing bodies, popping away to the staccato rhythms. Another vote sees us decide whether guitarist Mikey should play the shoegaze or wedding band version of the solo at the end of ‘What’s Up’, an almost tropical pop song from Care, and obviously we go for the wedding band version which is glorious. As the encore beckons after a brilliant ‘Lost Youth/Lost You’, Krell and the band just crouch down on the stage rather than exiting, and after a little debate with Mikey he shows off his pop nouse by covering Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’, it’s repeated line of ‘I need to be the one to take you home’ sang like Krell has written it, which if you had no knowledge of Grande you could conceivably believe, such it the sincerity of his version.

He closes with the majestic ‘Salt Song’, building and building to the huge final guitar solo, thundering drums climax with bass that literally shakes the floor of the room, surging through my body so I can actually feel the music. As it ends, it dawns on me that this has been one of my favourite gigs of the year. The passion Krell has for his art is so infectious that you can’t help but be swept up in what ever direction he wants to go in. He acknowledges how lucky he is to do this, tour the world (or ‘at least the racist, parts – America and Western Europe’ as he puts it), performing his heart out for modest crowds night after night, and you can tell he means every single second of it with full, honest sincerity. We need more Tom Krells in this world at the moment.

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