Hipster crooner, How to Dress Well, returned to San Francisco, bringing his dueling mics and perfect pitched falsetto to the Rickshaw Stop on a rainy Wednesday night. Despite the drizzly weather, hundreds of people packed the Rickshaw to hear the Chicago native sing his way through an hour long set of experimental R&B pulled from this year’s exceptional Total Loss as well as 2010’s Love Remains.
Seatraffic , a duo out of San Francisco, kicked off the night with a set of mostly dreamy synth pop. Though front man Mark Zannad’s vocals tended to fall flat throughout the night, the duo did produce some, if not danceable, at least entrancing melodies during their brief set. Unfortunately, the only real stand-out track was their opener, “Crimes.” The rest of the set become a bit monotonous and tedious but this much is to be expected from a band that is still trying to find its own sound. As of now, their sound lacks the ambition that sets apart the really great synth pop performers of this generation.
Following Seatraffic’s brief but well-received set, Brooklyn duo Beacon hit the stage with their own electronic music stylings. Where Seatraffic tended toward 80’s synth pop, Beacon created much more danceable R&B based songs that tended toward soulful melodies as opposed to the dreamy harmonies of Seatraffic. Front man Thomas Mullarney III conveyed a fragile yet earnest sensibility to his vocals as
he shyly donned a grey hoody that threatened to consume him and his delicate stage presence. From the danceable “See Through You,” through their closer “Feelings Gone,” Beacon tactfully navigated their set with the only negative moments coming from their visual display which can only be described as an awkward mixture of the female characters from Tekken 2 dancing in a Roger Moore era James Bond opening sequence. In short, their visuals were misogynistic and awful… really hilarious and awful.
How to Dress Well, aka Tom Krell, aka frail falsetto banshee, mounted the stage to a now completely packed house. Armed only with his two mics and a reassured timidity, Krell’s voice was pitch perfect throughout a soulful set that included fan favorites “Suicide Dream 2” and “Ready for the World.” However, the truly transcendent moments came on “Cold Nights” and the closer “Set it Right” when Krell abandoned his shy boy act and demanded that “this should be extremely fucking loud” that Krell’s true aesthetic ambition become manifest. Despite his timid demeanor, Krell has a fined tuned musical sense that is only matched by his capacity to utilize his vocals to create emotionally deep and staggeringly beautiful songs. In short, Krell is a performer of the highest degree.
He closed out the set with the emotionally charged “Set it Right,” in which his delicate falsetto explains “I miss you mama, I miss you dad” before the cathartic brought forth by a wall of sound that washed over the entire venue (unfortunately DJ Kevin Meenan decided that this finale was a good time to turn the house music back on). With this stunning climax, How to Dress Well exited the stage only for Krell to reemerge without the backing of his keyboardist or sampler. Krell proceeded to perform an a capella encore they only added to the intimate appeal of his live set. Despite the expectation, he began the encore with a cover of Elite Gymnastic’s “Here, In Heaven” and then he stepped in front of his mics
to perform an even more intimate version of a song he wrote for his brother. The night ended with a hearfelt goodbye from Krell and stunned crowd at the Rickshaw. If anything was proved on Wednesday night it is that Krell is proving himself a not only one of the more fascinating artist of his generation but also a dynamic live performer.