Photos by Ben Montemayor.
Early on in Friday night’s How To Dress Well show at The Regent, Tom Krell named three things that give him the most joy: basketball, sex, and music. If only there’d been a basketball hoop at The Regent, he probably would have brought all three of those things to the stage.
Krell is one of the most personable performers I’ve ever seen. He has the unusual ability to make crowd-banter feel like an intimate conversation, jumping easily from anecdotes about being kicked out of a 7-Eleven for dancing too provocatively, to deeply personal storytelling. Perhaps this affability was due in part to the fact that Friday night was a homecoming show for LA-based Krell, who seemed to have lots of actual friends in the audience – but it also clearly came from a genuine desire to connect and share joy with us.
The show kicked off with high energy performances of “Repeat Pleasure” and “Burning Up”, which got the crowd moving. This was particularly welcome as the air-conditioning at The Regent seemed stuck on summer settings and I was mere seconds away from penguin huddling with the guy at the merch table.
Temperature aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for this show. Aided by a flickery backlit light show, the small downtown theater created an intimate atmosphere for Krell’s bedroomy alt-R&B. The sound was so clear and well-mixed that during the stellar performance of “Can’t You Tell”, I found myself appreciating details that I’d overlooked in the studio version.
Halfway through his set, Krell took a break for a mid-performance Q&A, which was truly a first for me. Fans asked who his biggest musical influences are (his guitarist, Mikey Hart) and about his most memorable dream (a question he promised to address later in the set).
The second half of the show took an emotional turn as Krell explained that the lyrics of “The Ruins” – by far the darkest track from the new album, Care – came from a memory of his mother receiving a phone call about the death of a family friend. But the show’s most tender moment came during “Suicide Dream”. Krell asked for silence as he put down his mic and sang the chorus a cappella. You could hear a pin drop. It was a moment of stunning vulnerability and trust from Krell, and it paid off in an unforgettable performance.
For the end of the show, things picked back up with “Lost Youth / Lost You“, one of my favorites from Care. Instead of going off stage for an encore, Krell asked the audience to “pretend like we left,” and proceeded to lay down on the stage, do some stretches, (*cue wild cheering*) then get back up to perform “Salt Song,” a tune apparently inspired by the weird dream he’d referenced in the Q&A.
How To Dress Well’s music is maybe best known for its bleakness, but on this new album and in the live show, the focus is on the joy of caring deeply, both for one’s self and for others.