These days, concerts are inherently unpredictable. The days of recording as a band are over, and hearing your favourite artist without that familiar aesthetic of their lo-fidelity four track tape recording can be downright shocking.
I’ve avoided seeing New York based R&B singer How To Dress Well for well over a year for this very reason. The terror of seeing the man behind the curtain. You can’t hide behind ethereal reverb or tape hiss at a venue. The only thing between the performer and the audience is one lone microphone.
There were no lights to be found in the Great Hall. Instead, Tom Krell, the man behind the How To Dress Well moniker, was lit only by the wash of the dramatic video display sequenced behind him. His accompanists, responsible for piano and violin swells, were in total darkness.
Fortunately, the crowd only needed Krell’s voice, which was every bit as angelic as his sophomore release, Total Loss, would lead us to believe.
They played for just over an hour, covering most of Total Loss. There wasn’t much focus on his previous efforts. Instead, the only deviations came in the form of occasional nods to the R&B artists from whom Krell draws his influence. Departing from a song’s original melody for mere moments to venture into covers of Ashanti’s “Foolish,” or R. Kelly’s soaring hook from “To The World” felt like easter eggs hidden within the set for savvy enough in the realm of pop culture to absorb it. The terrifying thing was how at home those very hooks sounded within his sparse arrangements.
As powerful as his voice was, it was hard not to notice that Krell was still reticent of being in the spotlight. Commenting early that performing “doesn’t get any weirder, but it doesn’t get less weird, either” should reveal that the first date of his 37-stop tour would be a process of trial and error, but when push came to shove, there was little error to be found.
By the finale, it was clear that Krell had come out of his shell, so to speak. Stepping back onto the stage, but decidedly distanced from the microphone. Krell sang a haunting a cappella rendition of “Decisions” before fading into darkness for the final time.