Live Review

How To Dress Well, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

An emotional rollercoaster of high-pitched vocals and crunching drums.

‘What a great place to have a concert,’ says Tom Krell, taking stock of his surroundings. ‘It’s weird. It’s like we’re all grown ups.’ The room of young and not-so-young hipsters laugh knowingly in their seats.

Support tonight comes from a local duo who refuse to identify themselves - later outed as G R E A T W A V E S - and perform a set that sounds like the degree show of some recent C86 school graduates: jangly guitars, droning synths, no drums and a soft Northern burr. They’re okay.

The headliners seem far more suited to the unusual setting. The ethereal R&B of How To Dress Well evokes both the emotional content and practical craftsmanship of a good piece of art; in fact, the minimalistic arrangements mirror the Rothko-aping paintings that line the bright white hall they play in. The usually solo Krell is accompanied by a friend on synths, samples and viola, but for the most part his transcendent falsetto takes centre stage. At the end of the woebegone ‘Suicide Dream 1’ he parts his dual mike set up to sing a cappella, his voice spinning gently upwards, raising goosebumps on the crowd’s skin with it.

Throughout the set they’re accompanied by some fairly prosaic imagery, vintage film clips and the like, projected on a screen behind them. That is until a couple of new tracks, where it takes a turn for the Butthole Surfers; one features the nightmarish clip of a suited man covering himself in Joker-esque green facepaint, with percussion the volume of mid-period Nine Inch Nails. It’s more intense than anything we’ve heard of How To Dress Well thus far.

Until the closer, anyway; Krell, who possesses an easy charm on stage - and wearing a pretty natty Kanye-as-Tutankhamun shirt - instructs the sound engineer to make it so loud that we ‘feel it in our bones’. The stretched-out chant that bellow from the speakers is ‘Set It Right’, the cathartic penultimate track from last years ‘Total Loss’. How To Dress Well’s best songs are the ones that push the broken hearted R&B of The xx and Drake to breaking point, an emotional rollercoaster of high-pitched vocals and crunching drums, that’s the perfect finale to a brilliant show.

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