LOS ANGELES—A year ago, I saw Chet Faker at FYFfest and, at the time, he’d made sure to include in his set his 2011 minimalistic, loungey cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” I described it as the song that catapulted him into coffeehouses, indie music-lovers’ hearts, and internet fame #atthesamedamntime. I worried that the audience members that sang along with him believed he’d written it.
This proved to no longer be the case last night.
Now performing under real name Nick Murphy for his #30DaysInLA show at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, he's putting his signature melodic and mumbly drawl up against more than just the coziness of downtempo electrosoul, and is now matching it with massive funk and rock infusions. Covers not included.
Standing under a single spotlight in an otherwise blacked-out room, Murphy—decked in a guitar (cool) and full-blown trenchcoat (what?)—created an ambient wall of sound on the opener that seamlessly segued into the slow build of new release “Fear Less.” Lights now strobing, synths created waves around us, zipped past us, thumped at us before his vocals—less soft soul now, more menacingly hexing—broke through, over a maniacal snare drum, with the kind of notes you’d hear from Muse and Radiohead frontmen.
Built On Glass cuts weren’t left behind, but even the hazy and handclap-heavy hit “Gold,” once accessible, now sounded more ominous. Looking like a madman in a lab, he hunched over an MPC for “Blush,” his vocals still pulled through a vocoder, the synths still spinning like a siren, the thumps sounding like a gallop. It was a feel-good relief and release to know the warm and bubbly house of “1998” hadn’t lost its touch. Nor had the tracks off his collaborative EP Work with Marcus Marr: “Birthday Card,” a song that’s always sounded as if it was recorded in triple-time, kept its globby bass; the funk of “Learning For Your Love” (below) saw cymbals and wood blocks; while “The Trouble With Us” put Seinfeld-ian bass, ethereal scaling keys and Murphy’s falsetto to good use.
Don’t let his woodsman beard or natch for not smiling fool you; Murphy’s far from stoic. He headbangs, spins, paces the stage like a pigeon, and churns his arms at his side to make for endearing dance moves. But the highlight of the night, aside from the time-tested “Talk Is Cheap” (because, yup, it's impossible to tire of its multi-tracked choral feel or longing sax) saw him stop moving to return under a single spotlight, this time at the piano, for a pre-encore “something [he’s] been working on.” It was a fluttering ballad with distinctive plodding chords for dramatic effect that I didn’t catch the name of, but that reminds you that behind the mumble, MPC, or initially-perceived gimmick, there's a skilled musician with soul:
“Different versions of your self-doubt / On the surface, on your insides..../ You’re driving too fast but moving too slow / Looking through glass at the end of the road / You think your body you can abuse / But your eyes tell me someone's still got something to lose.”