On a prematurely damp and cold September night in Leeds, people gathered in communion at Howard Assembly Room to await Moses Sumney, the bewitching music master from California via Ghana.
ESKA opens up the evening in magnificent fashion. In one of her songs, she proclaims that she is “the real deal”, and with a performance that is so vital and energetic, it’s easy to agree. With vocals like Kate Bush but not so serious (she laughs at herself as she misses a beat at the end of a song), she is surrounded by drum pads, synths, laptops and drums, even whipping out a recorder at one point. She is accompanied by her young daughter, not on-stage, but she is very present in her music and throughout the evening as she laughs loudly and innocently at the patter between songs and cheers for her mum.
ESKA is the perfect opening for Moses Sumney. Music is in their lifeblood, and nothing is more natural for them than to perform. This seems like an oxymoron in reference to Sumney, whose music works in a complex system of loops and pedals. But he creates the perfect storm around the stage that he and his band control with the slightest touch of a button. Nowhere is this more apparent than when they perform ‘Call-to-Arms’ from his recent EP Black in Deep Red, 2014, or ‘Quarrel’. So involved is he in the act of performance that at the beginning of ‘Make Out in My Car’, he sways in front of the audience, smiling knowingly and carefully pronouncing the refrain, drawing the whole room into that moment. At one point in the evening, he runs off into the audience to sing more freely under cover of darkness. He takes one very lucky person by the hand and shares a very special chorus with them.
Moses Sumney’s music is so difficult to classify because he moves easily from acoustic to synthesised, from nu-jazz to experimental; as his sense of self morphs, so does his music. Throughout these changes, however, he never loses his virtuosity. Sumney’s voice is sublime in the Romantic sense: it inspires an overwhelming awe in the listener. He so easily sings out superhuman scales and runs, and manipulates the timbre of his voice that you wonder at some points if there’s some sort of spirit singing through him. But no, it’s all Moses. And so confident is he in his musicality that at one point he leads the audience in song, mocking them for their lack of confidence and their wobbly pitch.
I am not a religious person, but Moses Sumney took me to church. And for someone who attended a church school for seven years, it’s incredibly difficult to drag me back there.
Featured image: AFP