Moses Sumney + Jaala – Melbourne Recital Hall, Melbourne (01/02/18)

“Haha, it’s so funny…seated,” said Cosi Jaala, looking apprehensively out at the quietly expectant rows of faces at the Melbourne Recital Hall. “Devoid of crust and familiar smells.”

Jaala’s nervous discomfiture at playing to a reserved theatre hall did not stop her delivering an impressive set of her moody slow songs. Jaala has come a long way in the last few years from fronting the party punk band Mangelwurzel and releasing her own weirdo-jazz pop album. The set she played tonight was again different, a kind of stripped back neo-soul showcasing her unique, expressive voice and natural eccentricity, which she used to her great advantage. “It’s my greatest fear being here tonight,” she confided before the last song. “Thank you!”

From the very first moment of music Moses Sumney and his band drew the audience into a mesmerising world of delicate beauty and drama. Tall in a monochromatic suit of robes and bathed in a red light that called to mind some of the imagery associated with his album, Sumney was anything but an unassuming figure.

He sang gently into a selection of three microphones grouped together at the center of the stage, each producing a different sound or effect, his voice impossibly high and effortlessly beautiful. The band behind him consisted of drums, a guitar, which often sounded like strings or a synth, and a third player who switched between guitar, keys and soprano saxophone depending on the song. They dipped subtly in and out of the arrangements, always supporting Sumney and never drawing attention to themselves except for the fact that their presence filled out the sound and made it infinitely more immersive.

Aromanticism, Sumney’s debut album that was released last year, is an incredible otherworldly record of sublime beauty, but it pales in comparison to his live performance. Multi-dimensional it its scope, the show was a mesmerising experience like none other.

Creating and manipulating vocal loops and engaging different effects, Sumney drew a range of sonic textures out of his voice, all of which made sense within the context of their place in the songs. Soulful and dramatic, his voice ached with emotion, while his sense of composure and dry humour served to relax the audience and perhaps reassure them that he was, in fact, human.

‘Quarrel’, ‘Make Out In My Car’ and a cover of Bjork’s ‘Come To Me’ were all goosebump-inducing moments, but it was a non-album track called ‘Rank and File’ that stood out as being one of his best. Marrying African jazz, clapped and chanted loops and probably the most in-your-face rhythm and tempo of the night, the song seemed stand up and announce danger. A wave of layered high harmonies and some increasingly dissonant guitar/synth lines brought the song crashing towards a sudden crescendo before dropping once again to just Sumney’s voice.

Appearing for an encore of ‘Worth It’ from 2016’s Lamentations EP, the band then waved goodnight and left Sumney alone with an electric guitar. Asking if anyone had any requests he complied with a jazzy cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘I Heard Love is Blind’, before finishing with a song that many seemed to have been waiting for, ‘Plastic’. Delivered in this way with just a guitar and voice, it was, like the rest of the show, captivating, emotionally intense and devastatingly beautiful.

Originally published in Beat Magazine. Photo by Dan Aulsebrook.

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