In a musical landscape over-saturated with glamour and ego, Eliot Sumner is an honest breath of fresh air. You may have heard of her famous parents (look it up, if you must) but Sumner’s talent is so undeniable that no connection made to these two is necessary; she is a force all her own. The 25-year-old from the U.K has a no-fuss aesthetic that is both sonic and visual, which was perfectly executed at Slim’s on June 23rd. The show was the last of 20 in a North American tour to promote her debut album Information, an impressive 12-track record released in January.
The night began with a set from Cheerleader, a self-described “indie haze-pop quintet from Philadelphia”. What the heck haze-pop is, I don’t know. But somehow it is the most apt description of this band’s sound— lush, mostly-upbeat, and slightly tongue-in-cheek (I especially appreciated the lyric “everyone’s wearing skin”). Their compositions incorporate a lot of vocal layers, and these guys are expert at nailing a harmony.
After a short intermission, the lighting shifted and the mood darkened as the second band took their place onstage. Eliot Sumner set her Pacifico down in front and the group launched right into the first track from Information, ‘Dead Arms & Dead Legs’. Immediately, all of the pieces fell into place— the drums were in the pocket, Sumner’s bass locked in, the synth and guitar created a strange and beautiful ambiance, and her unique alto tone sat on top, steering the ship. We were taken the to mysterious sonic land of Sumner, where industrial meets ethereal and synth patches have no name.
It’s not every day that you encounter a musical artist whose stage presence is as impressive as Eliot Sumner’s. She didn’t have to say much— though everything she did say was punctuated with an exclamation point, an especially rousing move for a crowd of under 200— and we all automatically leaned in. It’s clear that her performance instinct is just as strong as her musical one. The songs are amazing, but the pairing with her physical presence is magnetic. As the band worked its way through Information, the energy in the audience was tangible— a fan even bought Sumner another Pacifico half-way through her set, to replace the one she had finished onstage. If that’s not audience engagement, then I don’t know what is.
Having listened through the album a few times prior, I went into the show curious to see how these sounds would translate live. Information is a concoction of driving beats, 80s synth references, and deep, strong vocal melodies. It’s a powerful record. The live performance, I feared, might not hit the sweet spot as well as the recorded album. But Sumner and her band are as professional as they are artistic, and their performance of the material was completely en pointe. Personally, I might have liked to hear more divergence from the recorded tunes, as the musicianship of these guys is so killer, but who can really complain when the live band sounds just as good as the album? They did include one very tasteful cover in their set, however, a tune called “All My Hate in My Hexes Are For You” by Crocodiles, and so I got my fix.
Eliot Sumner is a musician’s musician. She can read her crowd, guide her crowd, and thrill her crowd. She delivered a brilliant record and translated those ideas perfectly to the stage. She’s not just passing through, she’s just getting started.