Moses Sumney performs orchestral maneuvers in the heat at ACL Fest
"Why turn up, when you can turn the (expletive) down?" British singer-songwriter Moses Sumney asked as he slid into the final few songs of his breath-taking Austin City Limits Music Festival set.
There are many logical answers to that question and a good portion of the late afternoon fest-goers responded with their feet as they hustled away to stake out a good spot for Megan Thee Stallion's set at an adjacent stage. But for Sumney, who treated his 60-minute serenade as a master class in vocal technique and emotional expression, crowd hype clearly took a back seat to artistry.
With white hair and a black cape, Sumney opened with a cacophonous version of "Virile." He modulated his voice from mechanical growls to silky phrases that spun around his head as the four-piece ensemble behind him unleashed screechy blasts of sound over pummeling drums.
The band segued into a punishing prog rock interlude that broke into a glorious clash of distortion and falsetto as the warmth of the human voice was filtered through a dystopian techno future.
The entire set felt like an experiment in finding beauty through madness.
"Give it up for trauma," he quipped in a wry intro to "Cut Me."
"We're going to cry later, but if you want to shake your ass, now's the time to do it," he said.
The crowd interpreted "shake" as "sway," undulating with emotion as Sumney prowled the stage seductively.
The set was orchestral in its structure and Sumney worked his vocals with virtuosity, his voice gliding, then swooning then fluttering over motifs. While some artists allow their sets to build in energy, Sumney built his in pain. He completed the emotional arc of his set baring his soul on the visceral bloodletting "Doomed."
By that point a good portion of the crowd had drifted away, but the fans that remained were left reeling in their feelings after Sumney's orchestral maneuvers in the early evening heat.