Photos: How To Dress Well, or How To Politely Ask More Than Half Of Your Audience To Leave

  “If you’re gonna talk during the songs instead of enjoying yourself, go outside.”

How To Dress Well’s performance at Eclectic on Saturday was not the best concert I’ve been to at Wesleyan, but it was one of the most memorable—and one of the most uncomfortable. It was one of the few times I’ve been embarrassed by an audience of Wesleyan students. It was also the first time I’ve seen a performer politely ask more than half of his audience to leave. Tom Krell’s request was ignored, and his performance was consequently hampered by loud, drunken chatter amongst much of his audience.

Let’s back up. The indie R&B maestro had three openers, and they ranged from a remix artist to a synthpop heartthrob to brooding, gorgeous post-rock. This was a packed bill. First up was pop-songs-on-Valium DJ Slolivia (Olivia Hauser ’14), whose aesthetic is pretty well captured by this YouTube clip of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Imagine the same treatment for “Call Me Maybe,” “Larger Than Life,” and a slew of other smash hits. You get the idea.

Eclectic’s ballroom was empty when Slolivia got started. By the time she exited, a moderate crowd had gathered for Bamenda, the ’80s-obsessed synthpop project of Lioness/Treasure Island hero Dema Paxton Fofang ’13, who made his live solo debut at the Prince Rama show last month. Bamenda’s music sounds frankly isolated and insular on record, all Casio bleeps, wispy synth pads, and lonely double-tracked backing vocal. Live, it’s a far more inviting experience: Dema was bouncing around the stage under psychedelic lighting, sporting a classy “DE753MA” license plate and generally teasing his screaming fans, who pretty much know all the words to “Secrets” and “Medicine.”

Then Port St. Willow took the stage and launched into a set of what can best be described as textured, breathtaking post-rock, marked by rich falsetto vocals, majestic organ, and thick, spacious slabs of guitar. Primarily the project of vocalist Nick Principe, the Portland/Brooklyn-based band now performs as a trio, which includes a keyboardist and a powerful drummer who happens to be Jake Nussbaum ’10 of Duchampion fame. On Saturday, they were phenomenal, floating Principe’s silky vocals onto compositions that called to mind Talk Talk and Mogwai and dreampop and Krautrock—noisy and ambient and haunting all at once. When Ben Seretan ’10 (who helped make this booking happen) told me the band sounds like “Talk Talk mixed with Jeff Buckley,” I thought he was messing with me. He wasn’t. This was one of the best sets I’ve seen at Wes all semester. Here’s a video of Port St. Willow performing “North,” plus two standout tracks from the band’s debut LP, Holiday:

If you watch the YouTube clip of “North,” you’ll notice an alarming amount of audience chatter cutting into the open spaces of the band’s set. By the time Port St. Willow was finishing up, the ballroom had filled to capacity; for every student trying to listen to the band perform, there were at least two obnoxiously talking over the music. When lo-fi R&B tinkerer How To Dress Well (main man Tom Krell, plus two touring musicians) took the stage, the situation had become unbearable: Krell’s music is simply too sparse, too fragile, to work in a noisy environment. Plus, Krell couldn’t hear himself sing.

So Krell performed a few highlights from last month’s Total Loss, struggling to hear his bandmate’s fuzzy synth tones and drum tracks over the hum, then glared at the crowd. “Let’s get a collective ‘Shut the fuck up’ going,” he requested. Then: “If I’d known it was going to be this loud, I’d have taken different drugs.”

From my vantage point, this was the rudest Wesleyan crowd I’ve seen since Xiu Xiu came in 2010. Throughout the set, Krell became increasingly irate. There seemed to be two groups in the audience: those of us clustered in the front who had come to hear him perform, and the bafflingly large number of drunk bystanders who ignored his requests and continued talking over the performance. At one point, Krell asked anyone who was talking to “go outside”:

He was essentially rebuffed. Later in the show, he addressed the audience members who had come to see him perform: “I wish I could bring you guys somewhere… where we could do this.” When Nick Joseph ’13 shouted a request for “Decisions,” he replied: “I do that song a Capella at every show; it’s not gonna be possible here”:

Some students outright apologized to Krell, embarrassed by how the audience acted:

Over Facebook chat, Trill “Big Willie” Feinstein ’13 argued that timing was to blame: “it was at the wrong time too. Saturday night at midnight for a quiet, pretty act? not gonna work.” Plus, the frats are banned from hosting parties. Where else are people supposed to party and be loud, amiright?

I’m not so content with that. Thursday nights cannot be the only nights available to book “quiet, pretty acts”—it’s difficult enough for booking agents that four nights of the week are essentially void for college shows, and touring schedules often provide little room for flexibility. Warm Ghost was on a Saturday. So was Beach House. So was Wye Oak. Why was this audience different?

Another solution is to make more shows (like this one) ticketed. That would probably restrict attendance to people genuinely interested in the music, and as an added plus, it would net more revenue to Concert Committee, which would go to fund more shows. Perfect, right? But I don’t think that’s the right call either. For as long as I’ve been here, Wesleyan’s music scene has taken pride in the fact that there are so many free shows, open to all students every single weekend. You don’t need to front $10 to attend. There’s enough of that in the real world. You certainly don’t need to front a $20 to witness a monstrosity like this.

I’ve witnessed obnoxious and even belligerent crowds at Wesleyan shows before. That’s nothing new. But I’ve never seen a crowd so inconsiderate and loud that the headlining performance was effectively crippled. This was new, and disheartening, and ultimately embarrassing for any Wesleyan at the show. What’s the solution?

More video clips from HTDW below. Photos are by me, Rachel Pincus ’13, and Eric Lopez ’15.

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13 thoughts on “Photos: How To Dress Well, or How To Politely Ask More Than Half Of Your Audience To Leave

  1. :(

    On a positive note, I know several people who hadn’t heard of HTDW, were looking to party on Saturday, wandered into the show, and came out loving his music.

    Shame that it didn’t work out though. My suggestion is that this really should have been a Thursday. How to Dress Well is quiet, ethereal, and good for bedroom listening. No comparison to Beach House or Wye Oak, whose songs are just as pretty, but build and are generally pretty grandiose. HTDW’s pop hooks fade in and out and are almost always understated. Dancing may be out of the question.

    I remember being a little surprised when I saw that both Ohneotrix Point never and this were in the same week. It’s great that this school has such interesting concerts, but maybe the question you have to ask for Saturdays is: “is this something that people can move to.”

  2. Defender of Assholes

    Word is How to Dress Good flaked on his radio interview before the show and lied about it afterwards. Also, I generally oppose shushing during concerts. This isn’t the PGA tour. It’s a concert on a Saturday night at a college. Get over yourself dude.

  3. & It Was 2 Quiet

    say what you will about the monitors, but the sound was extremely low. I was front row by a speaker and you could barely hear. I also enjoy the fact that people can say “oh, concert”, enter and be exposed to something they did not know before. Creating a non-exclusive concert experience is the best part of saturday night shows. Maybe this just wasn’t a great call for How to Dress Well.

  4. 12345

    Perhaps concerts like this could be free but ticketed – so you’d have to pick up a ticket a few days in advance/online.

  5. PA sucks mang

    Part of the reason that this show was even worse than other shows with crowds that were too loud was the shitty shitty PA system. It’s a problem. please fix it. Better monitors=he could have heard himself a bit better.

    1. eyes and ears

      There were like four monitors dude. Problem was not the sound system, it was the all the apathetic drunk idiots.

  6. Dirk Diggler

    Nah, dude, Xiu Xiu was like this, but way worse. Remember the 20 minute drone note they played at the end of the set, just to fuck with/get back at everyone?

    1. Zach

      Exactly—Xiu Xiu at least had an arsenal of noise pieces to drown out the crowd or get people to leave. Whereas How To Dress Well’s set was effectively ruined by the chatter.

  7. Hey!

    I always knew mustached hipsters attempting to reinvent R&B for mustached hipsters would end in mustached hipsters acting like assholes.

  8. ab

    This is why we need another major concert venue that isn’t eclectic… I think a lot of people are just like, “oh, concert” and don’t even listen to see what it is first.

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