Moses Sumney At The Westminster Chapel At Immanuel Presbyterian, Saturday October 15th 2016
There is something very solemn about attending a concert in a church, I don’t go to church and concerts are the only occasions for me to step inside a chapel, a original place to organize a show. Certainly, a place influences the way you feel about a type of music but Moses Sumney’s music had all the qualifications required to be heard in such a place. He was well aware of this, and fresh from his tour with James Blake, he was still feeling jet-lagged and joked about it: ‘It’s like being on drugs in church, which is like my dream’. The young LA artist had scheduled 2 intimate shows at the Westminster Chapel at Immanuel Presbyterian, and I had the chance to attend the first one of these shows, on Saturday night.
Is soulful the same thing than spiritual? I am not sure, I am not even a spiritual person, if spiritual means spirit or soul surviving death, I am only trying to understand nature, ignoring the super natural. Still Sumney’s art precisely manages to transcend nature and matter, it has the power to turn anything it touches into the most spiritual thing ever. Could I accept this for a night? I guess I could.
Moses proved all set long that his music was all bout subtlety and minimalism, he is someone who can impressively build a song from almost nothing, and when I say nothing, I mean very little. Sometimes accompanied by a guitarist or a pianist, he was most of the time alone on stage, with just a guitar or even a looping pedal, but the central attraction was his voice, his stunning voice, completely elastic, going from honeyed harmonies to highs that most people have never thought could exist.
Opening the show with an a cappella rendition of ‘Incantation’, a very melancholic tune sung in a foreign language — that could have been Hebrew or Gaelic or completely made up, who knows? — he had right away installed a very eerie calm. At this instant, this tall dark guy wearing a black multi-button coat and walking through the church alley while singing in this mysterious language looked like he had escaped from a legend or a novel, and each person in the room was having the quietest moment of their life.
Moses is a careful and meticulous builder, instead of using pre-recorded arrangements as 99 % of people do, he builds his songs layer by layer in front of your eyes, adds beats just by snapping his fingers, tapping his microphone, or making different ranges of vocals, that he records with the looper. Then, he mixes them together, and in a few seconds, he creates complex rhythms and harmonies, that become his own backing layered sound, next he begins to sing using a different mic, and he is his own orchestra. It’s an amazing and fascinating experience, which keeps you even more involved in the music, slowly unfolding in front of you.
There is a weird and melancholic beauty attached to everything he does, and his stunning voice, going from powerhouse falsettos to subtle jazzy or Bossa nova territories, is as versatile as you can imagine, while several tunes bring Radiohead in mind. That’s why I was not even surprised when he said he would now cover ‘Daydreaming’ off the UK band’s latest release. He sang it with a lot of grace and humbleness, announcing he was about to commit ‘one of the seven deadly sins, cover Radiohead’.
The solemnity of his performance was contrasting with his great sense of humor, a bit sarcastic and self-deprecating, ‘Someone reviewed my show at the Getty, and called the song the lament,’ he said before singing one of his unreleased song ‘The Limit’. ‘And this made me realize that my music is about lament,’ he continued while explaining that this reviewer has inspired him the title of his new EP ‘Lamentations’.
From the tuneful melancholia of ‘Man on the Moon’, which sounded like a kaleidoscopic experience of soulful harmonies of the sweetest highs, to the meditative keys of ‘Proud to Be’, to the jazzy vocal prowess of ‘Plastic’ with the line ‘My wings are made of plastic’ echoing in a quiet and soothing fragility in the church choir, listening to him was like floating on a cloud. ‘Is everyone still awake?’ he asked after this last one. Aren’t we talking about ‘religious experiences’ when we mention deeply meaningful musical experiences?
I just don’t understand why he needed to auto-tune his voice during ‘Worth it’, when a voice is that great, we don’t need to listen to a computer! But that’s just me and my allergy for everything auto-tune. He ended the show with the beautiful ghostly presence of ‘Seeds’ then the expansive ‘Lonely World’ where he let his melancholic loneliness explode into a ecstatic symphony of voices with Radioheadish undertones. It was so beautiful and vulnerable that you couldn’t comprehend how he could play this song, which sounds so layered and so vast on record, with so little instruments on stage. Moses Sumney, or the art to build so much from almost nothing. He said he hadn’t prepared for an encore, but he came back for a song, almost overwhelmed by all the requests fusing at him.
With Solange, Sufjan Stevens, and Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor among his fans, Moses Sumney will surely become a big star soon, but he is taking his time, looking precocious, building his audience as carefully as he builds his songs, this is something so rare these days, but the result is spectacular.
Rank and fire
Man on the moon
Proud To be