Synth and bass, rock and roll, some combinations are easily matched, but when you put How to Dress Well on the roster, pairings aren't as obvious. Dominant Legs' mangy pop was an odd precursor to Saturday night's How to Dress Well performance at Cafe Du Nord, but then again, what flatters eerie falsetto and awkward emotions?
San Francisco's Dominant Legs played like summer in a bottle. Happy guitars, lots of cowbell and rad bass made the winter weather outside melt. The only thing missing was sunshine, or lights in general. Half the band was hidden from the crowd due to a lack of lighting-- particularly the adorable Hannah Hunt. One disgruntled lady in the audience voiced her disapproval by shouting, "We can't see the pretty girl in the blue dress," to which Hunt meekly responded, "It's green." Case in point.
The band of five played three brand new songs, two cute and sleepy and one with tropical breeze, but the hits were any that picked up the pace. The real gem was as suspected-- "Young at Love and Life."
There was a brief interlude by Shlohmo and his way cool collection of old school tracks, including my personal favorite, TLC's "If I Was Your Girlfriend"-- brought me right back to Mr. Burg's fifth grade class.
Then the stage cleared. A lazy stream of fog seeped from a small machine in the corner as Tom Krell grabbed the mic. Immediately things felt awkwardly intimate as the man behind How to Dress Well told the crowd, "This week things have been kind of tough for me," said Krell. "But I guess we'll see how it goes." And it went in all kinds of ways: uncomfortable, pretty, sexy and repulsive. It was Krell, naked (only figuratively), revealing every last detail of his diary in a high-pitched squeal of sorts, accompanied by super smooth, shattering bass, electronics and R&B stylings.
At first it seemed like a bad dream. My ears hurt. I thought slitting my wrists sounded like a nice alternative to listening to songs entitled, "Suicide Dream 1" and "Suicide Dream 2." I did enjoy the projected visual art and it seemed to pair well with the horror escaping his lips. I couldn't believe all these people had paid to see this guy. Was this a joke? I turned to the dude next to me (just as his friend offered up some Flamin' Hot Cheetos) and asked him if he 'really liked this?" He laughed. "Uh...no comment." Then he thought about it for a second more. "Well, I don't hate it."
And surprisingly by the end of his one-man show I realized I also didn't 'hate it' but couldn't quite get to the 'liking' part either. I grew to respect the dude for what he brought to the table. Krell has balls. Really big balls. Who else would stand up there and tell everyone that this song is about how his life "feels closed," instead of "feeling open, like when I was young." It was hipster poetry hour and I needed a cigarette. That's some depressing shit, man. If only I could've understood the actual lyrics. Were those real words?
How to Dress Well is what it is, folks but whether it counts as live music, a band or a quality performance is still up for debate. The transition from amazing recorded material to live act still has some kinks; or maybe that's the intention and you're cool and totally hip if you get it. I've never been one to understand 'performance art.' Instead it seems easier to categorize this fiasco as another talented bedroom musician lured from his comfort zone, into the outdoors and onto stages. We should stop being so pushy.