How to Dress Well The Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, October 20

How to Dress Well The Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, October 20
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
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How to Dress Well and Ex Reyes concluded their joint North American tour in Vancouver last night (October 20), bringing heartfelt performances to the Biltmore Cabaret. Openers Ex Reyes featured two members of the How to Dress Well band, including frontman Mikey Freedom Hart (who would later serve as a multi-instrumentalist for Tom Krell). Their rhythm section was incredibly tight, complemented by lilting keyboards and melodic vocals that sometimes used Auto Tune.
 
How to Dress Well took to the stage as a four piece, with singer-songwriter and producer Tom Krell greeting the audience and joking with Hart and the audience about nudes in their tour group chat. "Time Was Meant to Stay," from this year's Care, kicked off the night, glitchy and bass-heavy but leaving room up top for Krell's gentle vocals. "Repeat Pleasure," from 2014's "What Is This Heart?" was a highlight, capturing a warm, airy pop sound. Nimble guitar licks courtesy of Hart provided the song's emphasis early on, but the song hit its stride in the keys-driven choruses. "Can't You Tell" was smooth and R&B-tinged, complete with an irresistible chorus.
 
Krell's storytelling as he introduced songs was poignant. "The Ruins" was based on witnessing his family's reaction to the death of his grandmother's friend in a plane crash when he was child. He described the effect on him as his first experience with anxiety, one that has stuck with him to this day.
 
Former bandmate and Vancouverite Aaron Read joined Krell on violin to perform a hauntingly beautiful rendition of "Suicide Dream 1," a tribute to a friend that passed away. Krell then recounted a significant dream that he had that provided inspiration for "Salt Song," and gave a broad, multilayered meditation on life (Krell holds a PhD in philosophy, and it's evident in his writing).
 
Plenty of light moments filled the night, too. Krell noted that there was a celebratory feeling in the air as Ex Reyes' bassist, Spencer Zahn, brought local sushi and beer, as well as tequila shots, onstage for the band. How to Dress Well balanced the dark and light in Krell's songs, the casual and friendly banter between bandmates and audience making everyone feel at home. The band opted to lay down on the stage instead of leave and come back before their encore, and when they stood again, they performed a stripped back cover of Ariana Grande's "One Last Time." Hart, keyboardist Sarah Goldstone and Krell's harmonies were wonderfully sweet.
 
At the tail end of a month-long tour, perhaps it could be expected that How to Dress Well would be exhausted. Instead, the band, under Krell's talkative wing, captivated with earnest pop songs and a familial kindness. How to Dress Well brought honesty, awkwardness and humour to their set that is sorely missing in today's music industry. Most importantly, a strong sense of love characterized the performance, boiling music down to its essential nature as one of life's necessities.