Moses Sumney at Public Arts in New York, NY on June 3, 2018 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, July 12th, 2020  

Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney at Public Arts in New York, NY on June 3, 2018,

Jun 08, 2018 Web Exclusive Photography by Ray Lego Bookmark and Share

For a guy who once said, "The god of darkness has ordained that I shall not laugh," Moses Sumney is pretty damn funny. "Sorry I was late. I'm from L.A.," he quips to raucous laughter from his audience, two songs into a set that should have started late on a Sunday night but instead began on a Monday morning. It's impossible, in the deep blue light of Manhattan's hotel basement/venue Public Arts, to tell that he's soaking wet from the night's pouring rain. "I think it's karma for making you all wait outside," he jokes, again to universal laughter. He speaks in a deep baritone that one might not expect from listening to his music, the defining feature of which is his striking, gossamer falsetto (a quality often exaggerated by utterly minimal sonic backdrops, frequently just a guitar and maybe some extremely distant synthetic ambience). Performing a set comprised mostly of songs from his breakthrough 2017 debut album Aromanticism, he absolutely dominated the room at all times, whether with the jokes he peppered between his songs or with his unparalleled singing voice. The latter quality, even at its most delicate, forcefully hypnotized a room full of hundreds of New Yorkers fidgety from waiting until after midnight for the show to begin.

For much of the set, Sumney, dressed in a raggedy, black sweater tucked into extremely baggy, almost skirt-like jeansan outfit that at times resembled a large dress-stood behind a device about as tall as he is (and he's a decently towering figure). This device can best be described as a "beat torpedo": Doused in a coat of metallic paint, it fused the shape of a cross and a missile into a strangely compelling object. From the beat torpedo emerged three different microphones on which Sumney alternated vocal takes, which he looped to form the beat of longtime fan favorite "Lonely World" and the crushing drift of more recent calling card "Doomed."

Even when he was less engaged with the beat torpedo, it dominated the stage and lent his performance a ritualistic feel, almost like the audience was a fly on Sumney's wall during his most personal moments of musical creation. He crafted Aromanticism tracks "Don't Bother Calling" and "Indulge Me" with just his guitar and his voice, yet the beat torpedo, about three feet in front of him, proved visually pervasive. Only during Aromanticism standout "Quarrel" and an unsurprisingly natural cover of Björk's "Come to Me" did attention easily drift elsewhere. On both songs, harpist Brandee Younger joined Sumney on stage, her handiwork gripping audience members on the former song and Sumney's extensive drifts into the crowd captivating on the latter (with Younger still beautifully spilling notes from her harp).

Sumney is likely aware of how imposing the damn torpedo is (hell, this review is certainly fixated on it). He took bold steps to keep the audience engaged throughout his set, assigning two different groups of showgoers different singing rolesjust oohs and aahs, nothing too complexfor his 2014 debut single "Man on the Moon" and a soon-to-be-released track titled "Rank and File." This new song boasts a stronger beat than pretty much anything Sumney's done to date. It snaps and sways in the same way that "Single Ladies" does, except it's crafted solely from his voice and his loop pedals, with some very loud and quick claps and stomps to boot.

To end the set, Sumney asked the audience to full-on sing along to his signature song. It felt like every single person in the room knew all the lyrics to "Plastic," one of this decade's most powerful vocals-and-undistorted-guitar-only songs, a true modern classic. Hearing an entire room full of strangers slowly, dimly chant "My wings are made of plastic"a clear reference to Icarus and his fatal flightproved nothing short of breathtaking. Sumney couldn't have chosen a better note on which to end the set; really, he should end every show he ever plays with "Plastic." The audience, which had been enthusiastic throughout his set, lost its collective mind when he finished. As he exited, he gave plentiful thanks and smiled brightly. For someone who once claimed to never laugh, he sure seemed to have just had the time of his life.

(Read our 2017 interview with Moses Sumney.)


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