People have the strangest kind of hobbies and subjects they are interested in. Normally these days, especially in Germany, they heavily circle around the World Cup. Others like to watch the stock market in their free time. Or stamps. Tom Krell likes it a bit more abstract. His currently in-the-making dissertation deals with the aspect of nihilism and non-nihilistic metaphysics in the works of German philosophers Jacobi and Hegel. Well, definitely not the easiest small talk topic for a dinner party. But besides his philosophical efforts Krell asks the same essential life questions like most of us. What Is This Heart? is the key one of the just released third album by his alter ego HOW TO DRESS WELL. It deals with the aspect of interpersonal love not just on a philosophical level but also on a basic emotional one.
The bottom line is clear. Everybody’s decisions in life affect the current state of your heart. At least that’s what Krell told NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION in a recent interview with him. For his performance at the Berlin Festspiele, Krell took the concept of the album onto a new level. With the help of befriended choreographer Brendan Fernandes the music of What Is This Heart? was brought to live. Fernandes and his fellow dance ensemble (inter)acted on stage while Krell was singing on a pedestal. Californian arranger Minna Choi reconstructed the music, reducing it to its simple core. She was performing on piano accompanied by a string quartet. The usual electronic fundament of HOW TO DRESS WELL was reduced to a minimum and very well placed within the performance. Purity as a maxim.
Krell and his ensemble celebrate simplicity at the Haus der Festspiele in Berlin. At the beginning of the show the pedestal is surrounded by boxes and furniture. During the first songs the dancers slowly carry the chaos off by tenderly removing all the elements from Krells ‘holy rock.’ The musician reigns over the scenery almost Messiah-like while singing his heart out. From the bottom of his belly to the highest highs of his falsetto: Krell means what he sings. Chois gentle piano play keeps the intensity alive as the album was performed without any break ‘though not in the same arrangement as the initial tracklist. Naming specific highlights seems impossible. The album opener 2 Years On (Shame Dream) – being played second after the opening song See You Fall – is as powerful as it is on the longplayer.
Explaining art is always a lose-lose-situation. You might know this from party small talks as well. Most times it’s highly subjective and abstract. The performance starts in a more desperate state as love somehow seems lost and difficult at the beginning. As Fernandes and his dancers ‘rearrange the furniture’ it feels like it everything’s lightning up a bit, revealing a view on the clear heart, symbolized by Krell himself. Well, at least that’s one interpretation. But as the dancers start bringing flowers on stage during Childhood Faith In Love it gets even more harmonious. Pretty soon the whole stage is covered in colourful flowers, making Krell leaving his higher position for the first time. The final songs automatically seem a bit lighter and optimistic. But well, that could easily just be the flower-aspect.
The shows ends with frenetic applause and everybody on stage giving (and later throwing) the flowers to the audience. Krell grins like a Cheshire cat. Seeing HOW TO DRESS WELL performing in such an environment was truly terrific. A well-balanced show between the aspects music and performance. Neither one of the two elements constricted the other one. Sometimes it just can be that simple. In the end love is not lost. Even Jacobi and Hegel couldn’t argue against that tonight. It maybe just needs an open heart and a few flowers from time to time.