Sydney festival is well under way with Hyde Park being transformed into a wonderland of amusements. Music plays a starring role as usual and each year organisers are left with the daunting task of improving previous lineups. One such artist taking up two nights of the festival is Californian king of sombre-pop, Moses Sumney.
Rather than the expected Spiegeltent, fans fill out the pews of St Stephens Uniting Church. Rows upon rows of well dress punters fan themselves dramatically as they await the arrival of Sumney. It’s 7pm and pushing 30 degrees, also a good time to mention churches don’t have air-conditioning.
As the lights dimmed and voices hushed, however, thoughts of the blistering heat melted away. Clad in all black, Sumney begins with ‘Incantations’. Opting for an a-cappella version, the haunting melody combined with his other-worldly voice are completely arresting. It’s intimidatingly good. As he concludes, the audience almost don’t know if clapping is appropriate and there is a second of awed silence before the collective tentatively break it. Here, the mood completely shifts as Sumney breaks from his dark angel character, removing his cape and saying, “Well I’d planned to keep this on for longer but it’s so fucking hot in here.”
Sumney has a little bit of a name for himself as a musician for celebrities. You’ll see him popping up in Instagram feeds with some of LA’s elite and can cite Solange, Sufjan Stevens and Chance The Rapper as fans. Upon listening to his music the assumption is that his uniqueness and fearless creative direction are the reason, but after a single song a moment of “normality” on stage the real reason shines through, Sumney possesses that rare “it” factor where his magnetism is irresistible. Much like the late Jeff Buckley, he shifts between unbelievable and transcendental while singing and performing, to charmingly real and a little self-depreciating when addressing the crowd. Ten minutes in and the room is completely under his spell.
Sumney’s repertoire is limited, he performed the entirety of his latest EP, Lamentations alongside a sprinkling of material from the upcoming debut album and a few of his earlier singles that led him to critical acclaim. Sumney is undoubtedly the poster child for the saying, “quality over quantity”.
Song after song, the crowd sat completely dumbfounded by how much Sumney could do with so little. Opting to perform solo, Sumney’s setup included one electric and one acoustic guitar, three microphones and two vocal processors/loopers, looking not so dissimilar from many a busker. What Sumney is creates is the true magic of the evening, he uses looping in an un-cliche manner to build up walls of sound during his songs and the results are dreamlike. Nothing is pre-recorded and nothing is timed out precisely. This DIY approach is what makes it so special. Twice throughout the evening Sumney encourages audience participation and much like a Sunday morning, the church is filled with strangers singing en masse.
Originally, Sumney closed things out with a new track from the upcoming album which sounded like his most aggressive work yet followed by the popular ‘Lonely World’. After a standing ovation and thunderous applause, however, the humble young musician sheepishly took to the stage and stood momentarily unsure of what to encore with. One young woman called out for ‘Everlasting Sigh’, to which Sumney was pleasantly perplexed. He asked the fan’s name and followed with, “Well, this is Everlasting Sigh, because Dorothy wants it.” No doubt Dorothy’s year has already been made and for the rest of us, we were gifted with a few more minutes with Sumney.
Moses Sumney’s rise to popularity seems out of sorts on paper but after an evening with him, you realise talent like this just doesn’t come around much anymore. So when it does, you shut up and pay attention.
Gallery: Moses Sumney – St Stephens Uniting Church, Sydney 14/01/17 / Photos: Jamie Williams
Moses Sumney continues his Australian shows this week. See dates and details here.