No Air: How to Dress Well & Beacon at The Firebird

On a Sunday night in St. Louis, Tom Krell stood on stage alone, with only two microphones between him and 40 people hanging on his every syllable, and we fucking loved it. When did I know this night was going to be Special? There were hints. Last Saturday, my friend Seth lost his mind while watching Greenpoint’s ambient electronic band Beacon open for Matthew Dear at Webster Hall.

Among the highlights:

And yes, that’s Beacon, favoriting that shit.

And he was not exaggerating. Thomas and Jacob were on stage and performing before we were really ready to come down from the chill groove local electronic artist Ra Cailum had laid down (and if you get the chance to watch Ra Cailum, take it. He’s really matured sonically since I last saw him play, and we’re damned lucky to have him in town). Beacon’s visuals took care of the tone shift. On the backdrop, headless, scantily dressed CGI ladies danced slowly and awkwardly to Jacob Gosset’s beats while Thomas Mullarney’s dulcet vocals lulled and soothed. And they performed a Ginuwine cover!


Another clue that something Special was happening. Earlier in the day, Tom Krell put out a request on Twitter for people to bring candles with them to the performance.

Beacon is mesmerizing in their sincerity and poise. I was fully satisfied when they finished; I could have gone home right then and been happy. But they were a mere starter! The next part is infinitely harder to write about. But apparently nobody else is going to cover it, so I have to try (this is why IWTAS exists, after all).

After Beacon left the stage (returning to light and distribute candles), there was only a short wait before the main act appeared. Krell’s first words to the audience were, “The past four days have been a real shit show.” He was supposed to be accompanied by violin and piano (as heard on his new LP, Total Loss, Acéphale Records), but his instrumentalists were sadly stuck in Canada awaiting customs approval on their visas. In addition to lacking his backing band, he’d left behind his hard drive with his back up plan. He’d spent all day Sunday receiving files from a friend to cobble together the backing tracks for St. Louis’ show. Also, the visual artist he planned to tour with was stuck in Paraguay (I think), so he had to put together some impromptu visuals (mostly consisting of brief darkness or white light with a slight purple cast to it). He said he usually just closes his eyes and sings while his stage partners deal with the details. “I thought I was past this point in my life” he muttered good naturedly, as he walked over to futz with his laptop. Then he confirmed what I already knew: “It’s going to be a very special show, St. Louis. A one-time only event.”

 I’m not a good enough writer to give you a play by play of the show. As much as it pains me to admit, you really had to be there. I’d listened to Total Loss and Love Remains enough times, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would go down, but the live performance, this one specifically, was so far removed from formal recordings, the recordings are cute shadows of what transpired at The Firebird. School yourself on this performance of “Suicide Dream 2,” from Love Remains, which I only semi-rudely captured on my phone.

I’d listened to the recorded version eight or nine times and I couldn’t tell you any of the lyrics; they are layered and gravied down with distortion to the point of being unintelligible. Without last night, I’d never have put it together with the breakdown of Jordin Sparks’ “No Air.” The genius move of splicing pure American Idol into a perfectly gut-ripping song of loss, of wrestling a pop hook into an emotional place it could never get to on its own, I mean seriously. OOF.

That’s what How to Dress Well does best, though. He takes the universal language of R&B pop music and infects it with pure, sincere, and painfully honest emotion. If a pop song with a great refrain can get stuck in your head, the lyrical barbs of a How to Dress Well song get stuck permanently in your heart.

Personal Bias: Kind of weirdly, two of my favorite records so far this year are Perfume Genius’ Put Ur Back in 2 It and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. I feel like, even though they probably didn’t even touch, How to Dress Well’s Total Loss is the sweet goo in the petri dish that fed both of those two other records. Neither Frank Ocean nor Perfume Genius has come to St. Louis yet, but I believe I got a show last night that was even better than either one of them could do (though I love you, Mike Hadreas, again, I beg you, please come to St. Louis!). I certainly can’t imagine Frank or Mike laying down an a cappella encore with any more grace and power than Tom Krell did.

I knew like, eight people at the show last night, and we none of us acknowledged each other’s presence. I had no idea they were in the house until I saw their pictures go up on Instagram and Tumblr when I got home. Ra Cailum had just started when I walked in and everyone was already focused, absorbed and respectful and remained so the whole night. Great crowd! And apparently TK thought so, too.

When Krell wanted the volume turned up on the backing track, he’d firmly, but politely, tell the guys at the soundboard to turn up the volume. I don’t think they ever got it as loud as he wanted it. The frustration in his voice as he tried to encourage more volume was only slightly funny, mostly sad. He tried to be encouraging, but you could tell it was wearing on him. “THIS PART SHOULD BE REALLY FUCKING LOUD” seems like a pretty good type-face tattoo.

I didn’t know until today that Jordin Sparks’ “No Air” is the only Chris Brown song I know. #SCORE


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