How to Dress Well — the stage name for Chicago based musician Tom Krell — performed at 390 Panyu lu last night.
I was actually surprised how much I liked what Krell did. He sounds a lot like late 90s/early 2000s R&B, except it’s more ethereal, in a way, more ambient and reedy. Really vulnerable and open, too. I was vaguely familiar with his 2010 album Love Remains but I don’t remember being overwhelmed by it or anything. But live, he was pretty interesting.
On stage he had two mics he used; one with a heavy echo effect so he was able to do some cool things with vocals. Basically, it was just him and his soundboard guy on stage. He had per-recorded tracks of course with percussion and backing music, then he sang and his soundboard guy also played the violin. It was good all around.
But, you know, problems. Apparently at the sound check a few hours earlier the speakers had given out, so they had to replace them with some that were not as good. And Krell, throughout the show, had a lot of trouble hearing himself onstage and his monitor was giving him issues. For someone who primarily sings, this can obviously be a problem.
But the thing was, he sounded good. Like, he legitimately sounded good. He was a good performer and good live. So if he had never said anything, no one would have noticed. As for the speakers, Krell compared them to computer desk speakers, which, okay, are not good, but 390 is a super small venue. It sounded fine. And the fact that after every song he stopped to complain and the sound and stuff — the audience would not have noticed, really. People even kept reassuring him that he sounded good. Great! He sounded great. And yet he brought it up after every song.
I mean, it’s got to suck for him, not being able to perform the way he wants, not being able to hear himself as well as he thinks he needs to and not being able to give the performance he wants, but saying things like, “You guys should come hear me some other time,” is really kind of pointless, because we live Shanghai. We can’t come hear him whenever we want. And after a point, we’ve all paid our money, we’re all standing there waiting, and we want to hear something.
Oh and my god, the TALKING. Between the people talking and the people shushing the talkers (which was almost worse), it was impossible to hear Krell sometimes. Am I the oldest person in the world, or has talking got a bit out of control at these gigs recently? I swear it used to be if you wanted to talk, you moved away from the stage, right? And 390 is set up really nicely, in that there’s a lounge area where you first come in so if you want to talk, you can talk there and watch the show on the TV monitors. But ugh, the talkers last night. And not just, “Hey, this guy is good,” type talking, but long-ass drawn out conversations. Krell was not a loud performer, so the talking was incredibly distracting. At the end he was actually singing a cappella and someone legitimately screamed at someone else to shut up, and Krell completely lost it and started laughing. So, yeah, distracting. Or maybe I’m so old now that I’m like two years away from being that dude who sits on his porch yelling at kids on his lawn.
So, good and bad, but I liked it. How to Dress Well has a second album out called Total Loss and I’m definitely going to check it out. You can hear Krell on SoundCloud of course. One of my faves from last night:
Worth checking out.