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Live Music Review

Live Review: Grace Cummings at The Sultan Room (June 3, 2022)

It’s the late afternoon in Brooklyn on Friday, June 3rd. Bianca Bafitis, the Marketing Director at ATO Records, has posted on her Instagram story a backstage photo of Australian blues folk singer-songwriter Grace Cummings, with a caption that reads: “Grace Cummings is about to melt faces at the Sultan Room tonight!”

It’s been five days since that show and I still have yet to plaster my face back on.

Grace Cummings has a quality to her voice that’s startling, yet affirming. If you ever wanted to know what the voices of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and PJ Harvey combined might sound like, listen to Grace Cummings and you have your answer.

Throughout her performance at the Sultan Room, Cummings traded the intricately-woven acoustic arrangements of her studio recordings for some pedal-heavy rock and roll shredding, bolstered by a three-piece band. In the middle of her set, her band left the stage and she performed the next few numbers on piano, including “Sweet Matilda,” a crushing hymn reckoning with the loss and destruction of the Australian bush fires, and a cover of The White Stripes’ “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet).”

As a performer, Cummings is serious in stature and wildly unrestrained. The tension and release of her androgynously ragged and gruff vocal delivery is riveting and corrosive, unfurling layers of pain and longing that permeates and embeds itself into the listener’s conscience as her voice walks a tightrope of carefully crafted blues rock riffs. Near the end of one of the final numbers, “Heaven,” her and her band broke out into a prolonged jam session that was punctuated by climactic, ear-splitting drum hits that would put John Bonham to shame.

To see and hear Grace Cummings perform live is to understand how the scientists at NASA must have felt after catching a supernova live on camera for the first time. It’s thrilling in a way that language simply cannot articulate. You can’t walk away from the experience without feeling dumbfounded and too stunned to speak.


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