by Sam Lu | photos by Linx Selby
On Friday night, How to Dress Well (cover image), along with openers Forest Swords and d’Eon packed the house at Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) in Montreal. These three acts successively washed over the venue with waves of reverb from their entrancing music.
Kicking off the night was an ethereal set by d’Eon. The Montreal based experimental producer/singer songwriter played a solo live set with his keyboard. He’s noted for his split EP with Grimes, Darkbloom, back in 2011, and is signed to the experimental underground label Hippos In Tanks, whose roster includes Arca, Laurel Halo, and other innovative artists who are pushing the envelope for modern music.
Forest Swords was the next act on the bill. Matthew Barnes (Forest Swords), manned the MPD, keyboard, and for some songs, guitar, while his friend James Binary worked a Fender Jazz bass. Together, they had the crowd captivated by their mesmerizing performance, as they synced each beat of their songs to the beautifully crafted video playing in the back. They didn’t just stick to songs off Barnes’ recent, critically acclaimed Engravings album, but also revisited a lot of his older material. Their penchant for powerful, low bass caused something in the building to vibrate against the wall at each kick.
The vocal samples they used didn’t fade, but rather cut off abruptly, only to be echoed by reverb and delay. The dubby percussion eschewed the conventional drum kit sounds of snares, toms and hi-hats for more organic, almost tribal drums. The effect was mystical and epic, transporting you to lands where war drums beat as stoic warriors clash amidst thick pines and snow. We caught them in the lobby of the venue and kicked it with them. They really liked our shirts, which made the night for my inner fanboy. We chatted with Barnes about his music production and found out he’s also a disciple of YouTube tutorials.
As we went back to the stage, How to Dress Well, born Tom Krell, was just getting started. Judging by the sound of his records, Love Remains and Total Loss, I went into the show expecting an introverted, quiet dude on keyboards, but what I got, I did not at all expect. The first song was a slow number, and he wooed the crowd with minimal backing from a full band he had brought on, consisting of a keyboardist/backup vocalist, a midi controller/violinist, and Justin Peroff of Broken Social Scene on drums. But before the next song, he told the sound tech to turn it up.
The full band dove into it, aggressive and hard hitting, with Peroff really going at it on the drums, driving the rhythm section. The rest of the concert followed in those footsteps, with Krell charismatically giving instructions to the sound and stage techs through his microphone, “Let’s make this one real moody.” At one point a girl in the crowd yelled, “Take off your shirt!” to which he politely declined. However, given the contrast between his albums and his live set, I was half expecting him to indulge.
He played a lot of new material, both from his upcoming album and not, introducing each with a short little story about it. Compared to the lo-fi, bedroom producer sound of his albums, his stage presence exuded confidence, but without any loss to the sense of vulnerability that made his albums so emotionally devastating. The driving rhythm section gave the songs a sense of urgency, while the backing vocals – manipulated and distorted – created a nightmarish atmosphere on many of the songs.
After the set, an encore was soon in motion, and Krell came back onstage alone. Professing that he was drunk, he talked about his love of babies and his plans of having one soon, before launching into a lullaby. Closing the show, he had the audience decide on a song, and sang “Say My Name Or Say Whatever.”
Sadly, their tour has two more tour dates left, ending this weekend. It was an experience catching these acts live, and I was spellbound by the music for the entire show. How to Dress Well is a must-see live, as you will not find him sounding like this on any album that he has released thus far. SAT’s bookings are on point yet again.