Nick Murphy Fka Chet Faker At The Wiltern, Tuesday June 18th 2019
We may only know two musicians who used ‘Formerly Known As’, Prince, of course, who called himself ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’ at one point of his career, and Nick Murphy. About three years ago, the Australian singer and songwriter dropped his stage name, Chet Faker, while telling us ‘There’s an evolution happening’, and since, reviewers and social media continues to refer to him as ‘Nick Murphy fka Chet Faker’… it’s not so easy to build a new identity.
With the release of his new album ‘Run Fast Sleep Naked’, Murphy is touring the North America and Europe, with a stop at the Wiltern on Tuesday night, a very packed show, and a crowd of people who have followed his career probably much closer than I ever did. I actually expected a rather low-key show from an artist known for his chilling R&B electronica, but he gave us a real rock show with a four-piece band and some real stage action, and if he did not reach Father-John-Misty-charisma level, it was enough to make women scream and make one of them throw a bra on stage at one point.
Beacon, a duo from Brooklyn, opened the night and played an ethereal set of dense electronica with an occasional dance side under pulsating lights. They (Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett) were exploring melancholic to dark territories filled with abstract beats à la Thom Yorke, without really getting there. The eerie and vulnerable vocals were piercing through a fog of escalating synths, strange shifts and accelerations, while many songs brought long desolated piano parts bringing them at the edge of experimental electronica and pop. The duo released their third album ‘Gravity Pairs’ last year and their chilling indie electronica made a smooth transition to Nick Murphy’s sonic universe.
I knew the beanie-wearing Chet Faker, I knew the musician standing behind a computer/synth, but we got a Nick Murphy taking the mic in one hand and running the stage with ample arm movements,… there was evolution indeed. Still, I was not sure who Nick Murphy/Chet Faker was, to me, he did not have a precise musical identity as I had seen him live only once, years ago during his appearance at Jimmy Kimmel Live, chilling down behind a knob table and not doing much on stage.
The soundscapes were vast and densely layered, filled with a serenity, very present during the fist song ‘Hear It Now’, played like a luminous hymn looking for a new spirituality, slowly sprawling around Murphy’s fragile soulful vocals. ‘Sunlight’ was a danceable electro-beat journey but soon he was back to his old material with ‘Gold’ and ‘1998’ from his 2014 album ‘Built on Glass’ somewhat managing to reconcile his new image (the beanie was gone and he was wearing a suit) with electronic-tinged slow club floors. Soon, the throbbing sax during the ‘Guess I’m losing my mind’ chorus of ‘Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend’ got the crowd going with loud claps and sing-alongs, producing one of the most upbeat moments of the entire show
The show had stormy moments when Nick Murphy would knock over his instruments, almost tripping over the mic stand falling down, and the show had its large part of cool dancefloors with an extended version of solo tropical drumming (‘The Trouble With Us’ and ‘Birthday Card’ from ‘Work’, his collaboration with DJ Marcus Marr), and these ones got the crowd really dancing. But the tone could be grave and poignant and the show had intimate moments when Murphy would sit at his piano for some stripped down parts, reimagining for a few minutes the sensual vibe of the piano lines of ‘Talk is Cheap’, or crooning alone during the beginning of ‘Believe (Me)’, before layers of instruments would wake up the song by adding touches and tonalities.
The crowd followed him everywhere, meanwhile, he was going from the mic to a keyboard, to another synth on the other side of the stage, first using a bow on his guitar, showing his multi-instrumentalist skills with ease, playing his subtle hooks at the foggy intersection between electronica, soul, R&B…
Because of the presence of the 4 musicians on stage around Nick Murphy, the mood of the show was dynamic and expansive, split between organic sounds and electroacoustic, but rather elusive, floating between Murphy’s multi-influences. From the hip neo-soul R&B à la James Blake to indie pop, from a nod to EDM to layers making sense of his homage-to-jazz ex moniker, the result sounded very personal but I am still not entirely sure of Nick Murphy’s true identity
Hear It Now
Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend
The Trouble With Us
Yeah I Care
Talk Is Cheap
Novocaine and Coca Cola