Review: Moses Sumney at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent (Sydney Festival)
January 17th 2017
Photo by Prudence Upton
For someone who hasn’t put out a full album yet, Moses Sumney has an incredibly strong following – he sold out both shows he played this week for Sydney Festival. The gig I attended at Hyde Park’s Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent was jammed with folk ranging from their 20s to late 30s, but less expected was the sheer number of baby boomers. (Perhaps it speaks to the power of The Sydney Festival SMH Lift-Out Guide to mobilise the superannuated.)
Flanking me on either side are two very chatty mums who smuggled in their own sav blanc. They whisper back and forth to each other throughout the gig while Sumney uses his voice, guitar and a loop pedal to create loose, sparse rhythms and sing over them.
“Gosh. He has the voice of an angel.”
“Oh! It’s a loop!”
Starting with a finger click, Sumney steadily adds hums, hand claps and finally his incredible voice. The effect is warm and meditative. His songs have the hypnotic, religious quality of a dark hymnal dirge.
Between songs, he undercuts the sombre mood with surprisingly self deprecating banter. Three songs in, he apologises for his “boring ass music”. When someone responds with “We’re lovin’ it!”, Moses mishears them and starts laughing – “Did someone just yell out ‘You ruined it’? Mom? Is that you?” – before dedicating his next song, ‘Worth it’, to the Sydney housing market:
“…I don’t know if I’m worth it
I don’t know if I’m worth it.”
The gig finishes with ‘Everlasting Sigh’, which he gets the audience to build with him using syncopated hand claps. Both mums are enthusiastically drunk at this point, our section is way off rhythm, so I sit it out to watch Moses and his small, spellbound audience.
When people write about Moses Sumney, they often tend to make comparisons to artists from another era. Musicians like Prince (Pitchfork), Jeff Buckley or Nina Simone (Sydney Morning Herald). None of these people sound much like Moses Sumney to me, but I think the comparisons are made because he shares that same quality: a rare, transcendent talent.
“Thank you,” Sumney says. “This is my first time selling out shows in another country. Which is pretty cool.”
You get the feeling that pretty soon it will be hard to catch him in such an intimate venue.
Photo by Prudence Upton