Moses Sumney At The Bootleg Theatre, Wednesday February 12th 2020
Six years after his debut at this same venue – he was then opening for KING and made a big impression – Moses Sumney returned to the Bootleg last night with a set of new music, enchanting a dense crowd with his sonic explorations. As he let us know, Sumney is about to release a new record, ‘Grae’, a double album which will be released in two parts (the first part on February 21, and the second part May 15) via Jagjaguwar. ‘You get two for the price of one’, he joked while starting his residency at the Bootleg where he will be playing each Wednesday night till March 4.
Moses, which was born to Ghanaian parents, has built a musical universe of his own, defying genres and classifications, with inspirations that seem to be as vast as they are precise. If I have always heard touches of Radiohead here and there in his music – I even watched him doing an amazing Radiohead cover a few years ago – he covered Bjork’s ‘Come To Me’ last night, and his breathtaking falsetto was more than ever at the right place.
Surrounded by 7 musicians on stage, playing keyboards (Brandon Coleman), violins (Darin Thomas and Peter Lee Johnson), drums (Ian Chang), guitar (Mike Haldeman), trombone (Vikram Devasthali), and even saxophone (John “Keek’ Keuch), Sumney’s soundscapes were both symphonic and ethereal, while his high voice, one of the best you will have the chance to hear, soared to a surreal and rapturous falsetto over cosmic and complex songs. The entire show was an amazing trip, highs included, drugs not included, a meandrous maze of ethereal impressions and a whirl of melancholic emotions to cathartic ascensions.
Despite his use of electronics, Moses has no taste for just staying ambient, his atmospheric songs are anchored in profound emotions thanks to his amazing voice and the layers of string and horn he adds to almost each one of his bold sonic moves.
The two acts, one under red light and one under blue light, were partially contrasting in energy, but his intensity and passion were the same. The songs of the first set were all fired up with his athletic body moving as much as his acrobatic voice, while the daring arrangements of the songs were exploring plenty of directions, ascending in mind-blowing explosions of soulful howls. ‘Los Angeles what’s the fuck is that?’ he said to us with a smile, while looking at the very crowded venue.
During the modern soulfulness of ‘Virile’ – a song for which he produced this incredible video – Moses’ body was going through all the shades of red and his voice was racing from these surreal heights to a more mournful tone. The crowd was subjugated by the ease of his act, and Moses was also very funny between the song: ‘More shit you never heard, what about that?’ he asked, and nobody was disapproving.
Besides the touches of inspiration, I could perceive here and there, the Radiohead-esque intense heartbreak (Neither/Nor), the tricky abstraction of Flying Lotus mixed with effervescent jazz, the music was groundbreaking work, very much unlike anything heard before as each song knew how to surprise the crowd. It was impressive to see how much Moses’ art had evolved since the time I saw him, 6 years ago, alone on stage, using looping techniques to build little by little an entire track.
Fresh from being performed on the Colbert show, the tune ‘Cut Me’ was a delightful modern doo-wop, while the gospelic ‘Bless Me’ (‘Before you go’) stretched to some extra minutes as many guests including serpentwithfeet, Tunde Olaniran, Ogi Ifediora, got invited to sing on stage and gave their own take on the song. There was also ample participation of random people from the crowd, and the young woman next to me was handed the mic for the chorus and did an amazing job. People became ecstatic and Moses called it a ‘marathon show’. At this point, the night became a very communal story, ‘it’s like going to a church’, I overheard after the show, while this intimate affair lasted more than 2 hours – not bad for a free gig – and Moses Sumney was almost apologizing for playing such a lengthy show.
The second part of the show was featuring other new songs, including ‘Lucky Me,’ a song Moses said he had co-written with his friend James Blake. Switching between keys and guitar, the melancholy of his falsetto was accentuated by the subtle and acrobatic melodies of his avant-garde pop. The quieter songs had a stripped-down beauty exploring deep emotions around loneliness and heartbreaks, with sometimes a Brazilian flair à la Giberto Gil, like one of his famous songs, ‘Plastic’, he did during the encore.
It’s difficult to pick a highlight of the night, there were many profound moments when the crowd, in complete awe, seemed to worship Moses’ unearthly voice like a pure and sensual treasure, while the entire show was an intense and immersive experience.
In parallel to his month-long residency, Moses Sumney will present an art installation in another room of the Bootleg, with his new album streaming in 3D audio between noon and 5 pm, Monday through Saturday from February 13 to March 4. It is another excellent excuse to visit the place and continue the experience of ‘Grae’
Don’t Bother Calling
Me in 20 Years
Come to Me (Bjork cover)