Moses Sumney @ The Sinclair

Moses Sumney
featuring Xenia Rubinos

October 9th, 2017 @ The Sinclair

By: Robert Kerstens


While Moses Sumney was the official headliner, the real star of the show was the expressive power of the human voice. Between the pungent purr of opener Xenia Rubinos and Sumney’s cavernous croon, the performances explored the earthen riches hidden in the nooks and crannies of everyday speech. Xenia jettisoned the support of any musicians that might distract from her rippling vocal runs, playing her first solo show in a decade. In a void of drums, Xenia’s angelic murmur resonated as though through a candlelit cathedral, buttressed by loops of organic snaps, claps, and the soft thump of a palm on the microphone.

The crowd was unusually packed for an opening act by the time Xenia started with ‘Don’t Wanna Be.’ Switching between bass and keyboard, she delivered a set that was raw and unapologetically experimental. Despite playing alone, Xenia still managed to pull off mashing a cover of ‘A Man of Constant Sorrow’ with Miles Davis’ ‘Maids of Cadiz.’ Precision was traded for fiery passion as she recklessly ripped at her bass strings and hammered on the keys. ‘See Them’ had Xenia frantically scatting and freestyling slam poetry over throbbing synths and a pounding drum machine. Her powerful voice trembled with rage, particularly as her music confronted racial injustice. On ‘Mexican Chef,’ she carried the indignation of the millions of people of color working thanklessly behind the scenes to keep America on its feet. At the end of her set, she payed respect to her island roots by collecting money to support the storm-ravaged people of Puerto Rico.

Soaked in blue light and drowning in a placid lagoon of reverb, the twinkling guitar arpeggios of ‘Self-Help Tape’ introduced the Sinclair to the aqueous hum of Moses Sumney. The sparse intricacy that defines his recorded music was blurred out in the live mix, oversaturated in atmospheric effects.  It created a beautiful ambiance, out-of-focus and impressionist like Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Songs floated through each other, with guitars that layered into a dense fog only to refract back to clarity for a new melody. It was the perfect backdrop for Moses’ ethereal voice, ageless and full of mysteries.

Before playing ‘Make Out in the Car,’ Moses gave a monologue about the inspiration for the song: the moment at the end of a first date when you sit with your date in the car as you drop them off and awkwardly try to kiss them goodnight. Despite their roots in lovelessness, the songs he played off his latest album Aromanticism all sounded quite romantic. Moses sang like a violin, as if setting the mood for a moonlit picnic paired with fine wine and seductive jazz guitar.

If he was as lonely as he let on in his lyrics, he surely didn’t show it, cracking jokes and engaging with the audience all night. In performing an unreleased track titled ‘Rank and File,’ Moses assigned vocal harmonies to the audience based on age, inviting them to add their own unique voices to the mix. The track itself was a churning protest march of a song, featuring one of the many whirlwind saxophone solos bleated out during the show. Moses kept things light and fun without sacrificing the depth of his music, adding a hypnotic house beat behind ‘Lonely World’ to close his set.

Storming the stage to raucous applause, Moses gripped the microphone and defiantly asked ‘are you not entertained?’ before taking requests for his encore. Not that it mattered; he settled on ‘Man on the Moon’ and ‘Plastic,’ two forlorn lullabies off his debut. Personally, I was very entertained. The songs glimmered with the same tear-stained opalescence that defined his set, aching from a place of desolate solitude.

Listen to Xenia Rubinos here:

Listen to Moses Sumney here:

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