How To Dress Well aka Tom Krell was a fixture on my iPod last year and although Love Remains came just short of making my Top 25 album list, his cover of R. Kelly‘s I Wish did break my Top 10 songs. Somehow I doubt Tom was heartbroken by the former or even aware of the latter. Mr. Krell and his How To Dress Well project had better things to do than read my blog. Translating philosophy by day and making lo-fi r&b by night, lo-fi r&b featured on Pitchfork, Stereogum, Gorilla vs. Bear and every other ‘next big thing‘/ ‘anti-big thing‘ outlet out there, is kinda time consuming. Add to that all the tweeting, facebooking, youtubing and a live show here and there and who has time to pay attention to all the blogs out there? So when I passed the extremely tall, moustached, discernibly plain-clothed 25-year-old from Brooklyn on the stairs at Cafe du Nord, he didn’t recognize me even though I recognized him. That’s alright though, I was looking forward to his set, but that was later in the night, and right then I had another artist to meet…
I met ‘gothic, estonian, funeral folkster‘ Chelsea Wolfe at 7pm and you can read all about her and her set here.
After Chelsea came Shlohmo and after Shlohmo came Dominant Legs and you’ll have to look elsewhere to find reviews of those particular acts because I was distracted during their sets. Shlohmo‘s beats sounded nice, but that’s not something I can stand around and watch and Dominant Legs were just not my thing. So rather than be negative, let’s just move on.
Tom Krell took the stage and began to preach to his congregation of hipsters, admirers and doubters. It was 11pm and I was somewhere in the middle, riding the line between admirer and doubter. Over the past few months I had gotten past the extreme ‘below-fi‘ production of Love Remains and it had cemented itself as one of my favorite ‘current’ albums, but I had major doubts on how this material would translate live. A geeky, white guy, on stage with nothing but a mic and a laptop? Maybe a film and some pretty lights? Why not just listen to the album? I mean, how could this guy really entertain a room full of people?
The answer? Just be himself. Napoleon Dynamite trying out for American Idol by covering TLC. How could this NOT be entertaining?
The night got a Lover’s Start with a lack of feedback. The lights were there, with the film in the background and Tom towering above the crowd like some sort of street preacher…it was exactly how I pictured it in my head, but by the time he went into Can’t See My Own Face I realized I was seeing something truly unique. This wasn’t just some guy making basement sounds from r&b instead of rock or computer blips and beeps and hiding his shitty voice under the feedback. This guy can actually sing, he is entertaining and he is doing something that no one else is doing. He has a real chance of recording an album with some production value, an album where his voice is front and center; he has a chance of being something much more than a novelty. His biggest problem with sound this particular night had nothing to do with planned distortion, it was a faulty mic that became a problem throughout the set.
Introducing songs as ‘my international best seller‘, ‘this one’s a banger‘, ‘my gay Queen anthem‘ and ‘a slow burner, no dancing‘ shows that this guy who has been quoted saying that he wasn’t going to make a career out of this (I remember Gregg Gillis saying that quite a bit as well), could very easily do just that if he so chooses.
The set ended with something completely unexpected when he performed his cover of the R. Kelly song that only existed as a youtube video up until that point, I Wish. I would have left happy after that song, but a cover of Ariel Pink’s Fright Night was worth the possible lawsuit; Tom asking the crowd to please refrain from ‘retweeting this‘.
After the show we caught up with Tom and had a quick conversation about his brand of r&b, 2 Live Crew, Prince, racist grandparents, Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Personable guy, great voice, great ear for modern r&b and a surprisingly good live set. I can honestly say I’m a convert to the church of dressing well.
Setlist: (click on links for video)
Can’t See My Own Face
Suicide Dream 1
Mr. By & By
Walking This Dumb
Suicide Dream 2
Ready For The World
I Wish (R. Kelly cover)
Fright Night (Ariel Pink cover)