What kind of madman covers both Neil Young and Björk in the same show? Moses Sumney does. Sumney is the kind of artist who draws you in, and it’s not because he’s necessarily trying to. The LA-based musician, on his tour supporting his two-week old debut album (Aromanticism, out Sept. 22 via Jagjaguwar), put on a show at Old Town School of Folk that was both grand and incredibly intimate. Held in their auditorium, the stage setup featured five globed lights, each flashing a different color in time to the music. The show was opened by Sufjan Stevens labelmate Angelo De Augustine, a delicate and sweet folk singer, also hailing from Los Angeles. His hushed music set the tone for a show that would require a certain kind of attention.
I fell in love with Sumney only a few short weeks ago, after hearing the single “Doom” off his forthcoming record, so I had those brand-new-obsession jitters before he stepped on stage. When he finally did, a sort of awe came over the room. He is incredibly tall, and wore a gray baggy jumpsuit with a black shawl around his shoulders. His profile was silhouetted against the light of one of the globes, and the guitarist and synth player began to play a droning hum. He began the show with the airy “Don’t Bother Calling,” which is the first full track on his album. His voice demands attention, and this is what he received in the opening notes of his show. His voice soars in its highs and lows, traveling in and out of twisting falsetto turns and descending runs. He is a crooner at heart. He and his fellow musicians relied on looper pedals and synth effects throughout the show. On occasion, I don’t like the effect these kind of tools create in an concert. Here, however, it was the perfect thing for someone like Sumney – a person with so many ideas they can’t all possibly come out at once.
For his second song, he played Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” He regaled the crowd with a story about how all he listened to as a child was country music. For a man whose music is incredibly serious and subdued, his speaking persona couldn’t be anything more different. He had the entire crowd in hysterics on multiple occasions, and the intimacy of the venue added to the feeling of closeness.
He continued through his album, reimagining his own music in unique and beautiful ways. During “Plastic,” he invited the audience to sing along with him in the chorus – “My wings are made of plastic…” In an interview with NPR’s Bob Boilen, Sumney mentioned that these words were an admission of being “fake” – but Moses Sumney is anything but. The show was an outpouring of warmth and genuineness, and I feel privileged to have seen him in such an intimate venue at the beginning of his career.
Be sure to check out his album, Aromanticism, and catch him on tour if you can.