Tom Krell, the 34-year-old singer/producer behind How to Dress Well, an electronic outfit he’s been sporting for close to a decade, is never still on stage. Between manning projections, soundscapes and singing into two different microphones, he’s constantly flitting from one side to the other, drenched in and out of shadow. There’s a lot going on, surely more than us in the crowd are able to comprehend, but it never looks like a struggle. He’s mastered the art of solo multitasking with some invisible help from sound technician Will Smith (“That’s his actual name.”) This year he also proved his writing chops with a book release that accompanies the new full-length record The Anteroom, released October 19.
Krell’s pre-Thanksgiving show at Sleeping Village was his first in Chicago after leaving it behind for Los Angeles as well as the closer after touring abroad for over a month. Back in town among friends and family, he admitted to having more nerves than when he opened for Depeche Mode: “[it was] chill; I was on my phone.” During one of his signature witty monologues, he had much to say about his travels. “Life elsewhere is very weird. The same conversations everywhere were happening” about ecological devastation and politics, and he wondered aloud if perhaps it was an “index of solidarity.”
Tuesday’s set was comprised of three acts, starting slightly “psychotic” (Krell’s adjective) and drifting into a romantic middle section—“give your loved ones a meaningful look”—before launching into a dancey finale. The Anteroom dips into more aggressive realms than HTDW’s past four records but continues the tradition of brilliant hooks that end abruptly and lyrics that cut to your core like “There’s still so much pain and anger in your body fat” off the atmospheric second track, “Body Fat.” “Love Means Taking Action” has the sparse ‘80s synth vibes of Survive’s compositions for Netflix’s Stranger Things and made an appearance in the second act. Krell also played some older cuts like “Say My Name Or Say Whatever” off 2012’s Total Loss.
Krell opened up to the crowd that his Aunt Joan had requested he DJ for his cousin’s wedding. Aside from hardly knowing the pair about to wed, he did not seem particularly tickled by the idea of spinning tunes at a gathering celebrating marriage. What followed was a ridiculous deluge of loud techno bursts and spoken word samples veering into the depressing and hopeless. Needless to say, he did not take the gig, but it was a hilariously gratifying bit.
“Any questions?” Krell asked after his wedding DJ antics.
A guy in the audience was called upon: “Maybe your next mix can be ‘How to Marry Well.’”