How to Dress Well – review

Soup Kitchen, Manchester

How to Dress Well may sound like a lesson in tailoring etiquette, but is actually the performing name of Colorado-born Tom Krell, whose second album of ethereal R&B songs about sadness, death and devastation, Total Loss, was released recently to rapturous acclaim.

To recreate it live, he is backed by two musicians he introduces only as "Aaron and Cameron", plus a laptop, keyboard and violin. Behind them, a screen shows an image of a female face contorted in agony or ecstasy, the perfect visual metaphor for music that seems to have located the precise meeting place between the two.

Krell's extraordinary, Prince-like falsetto – delivered via two microphones, and occasionally without amplification at all – seems to come from a special personal place, which requires him to sing with closed eyes and work himself up into an almost transported state. "When I think about you, there's a weight on my chest and no air," he sings, to an awed silence. "I know you're in a better place … I can't say that shit and keep a straight face," he wails, heartbreakingly.

The sublime music involves everything from piano riffs to booming fractured beats to the eerily echoed sound of Krell clicking his fingers, but at heart these are great American songs that could equally be strummed by Bon Iver or Bruce Springsteen. A philosophy graduate who has been diagnosed with depression, Krell must be one of the humblest, chattiest artists to front such mesmeric music. "We've been on tour a long time and sometimes it feels like a slog," he admits after the heavenly Set It Right's symphonic list of his most-missed people. "But it feels good to hear you yell at me every song." There's another second's silence, and the audience yell some more.

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Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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