Co-headlining can be a win-win proposition: both acts get to play a bigger room and potentially perform in front of an audience that would otherwise never spend the money to and see them. But it can also expose cracks in an artist's facade, highlighting the strengths of one, while shining an unwanted light on the weaknesses of the other.
How To Dress Well handled opening duties on this Toronto stop; still riding high off the artistic triumph of last year's Total Loss, Tom Krell and violin/laptop wiz Aaron Read took the un-lit stage bathed only in the light from a projector that provided visual accompaniment with slowed down video clips. Opening with "Cold Nites," Krell moved between two mics — one simply to amplify, the other drenching his warm falsetto in echo and reverb — swaying to the pulsing rhythms of his lethargic R&B jams. Krell's performance has come a long way from the days when he'd play solo, singing over backing tracks. On this night he appeared relaxed, joking with the audience and still beaming over his recent hang with singer Maxwell, who attended How to Dress Well's New York gig and invited Krell back to his studio for mac 'n' cheese.
Krell's performance was hampered by minor sound problems like feedback and a woefully weak sound system; throughout the performance, Krell implored the soundman to turn the volume up. Most noticeable, however, was the absence of Cameron Reed, aka Babe Rainbow, who'd previously accompanied Krell on tour as a keyboardist. It seemed to throw the singer off his game a tad, though he got a handle on things by the time he performed "Ready for the World," and delivered stellar renditions of Total Loss highlights like "Set it Right" and Ocean Floor For Everything."
Where Krell came across like a star in waiting, hampered by the technical limitations of his two dudes and a laptop set-up, Sky Ferreira's team treated the Los Angeles singer like the pop-idol her label envisions her as, even if they seem to have no idea how to achieve such a lofty goal. A phalanx of backing musicians and roadies spent an inordinate amount of time setting her stage, which included a battery of fluorescent tubes to provide back lighting. Ferreira finally took the stage, escorted by a pair of unnecessary security guards, where she launched into "Lost in My Bedroom," the Annie-esque pop tune from her recent Ghost EP.
While her band were on point, one thing quickly became apparent: Ferreira can't sing. At least, she struggled throughout her ten song performance to match the ambitious vocals of the slick pop numbers she's built her name on. Moreover, Ferreira looked like she couldn't have cared less, delivering her lines with a dead-eyed stare, barely acknowledging the packed and in some cases ravenous crowd. A handful of her acoustic tracks, generally the duller moments of her EPs, were where she actually managed to crawl out from under her four-piece band, whose presence overwhelmed her stilted performance. Ferreira — or someone on her team — are trying to position the singer somewhere between the pop-art cool of Debbie Harry and Courtney Love's don't-give-a-fuck angst. But her inability to carry off either made her performance on this night come across as a poorer version of Taylor Momsen. Predictably, she ended her set with "Everything is Embarrassing," the sublime Blood Orange-produced track that brought the singer to most people's attention in the first place. Unfortunately, her band killed much of the subtlety that made the song work so well in the first place. Not that anyone onstage seemed to care — by this point Ferreira and her band looked as if they'd rather be anywhere else, bored by their own performance. And quite frankly, so did most of the crowd. "Maybe if you try, then I would not bother," indeed.