Nick Murphy is a man who truly knows his own aesthetic. Dressed in a simple black suit, he took the stage at the Wiltern Theater last week to a building ambient synth. Wasting no time, he jumped right into things, belting out the opening words to “Hear It Now” with fiery passion before strapping on a guitar and breaking into an exploratory jam session. The song clocks in at just under four minutes, but Murphy has a weird way of manipulating time with his music to make you feel like you’ve been listening for a lifetime. He’s emotive on stage, and his enthusiasm for the music is clear, immersed in the sound at times, while stopping to just listen and take it all in.
This experimental and unpredictable nature of his performance seems natural for Murphy, who has spent the last five years on a soul-searching journey across the globe. Formerly known as the Flume-adjacent, more suave and upbeat Chet Faker, Murphy’s music has since transitioned into a darker realm. Often disorientating and somewhat chilling, the majority of his more recent work relies heavily on droning synths, strings, and warped sound—a big leap from the warm and fuzzy cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” that initially made Murphy, or should I say Faker, a viral hit back in 2011. Whether or not this transition has been deemed a successful one doesn’t seem to phase Murphy, though. Whilst on stage he becomes fully engulfed in his own creation, giving in to the sound as he tosses mic stands to the ground without a care in the world. It’s clear he’s doing this not for us, the audience, but for himself.
As his set continues, Murphy becomes more unhinged, taking off his jacket after a seemingly exhausting array of dance moves and then falling to his knees for a few minutes before having a sudden burst of energy at the end of “Dangerous.” The set was mostly comprised of tracks off his newest album, RUN FAST SLEEP NAKED, his first record as Nick Murphy, but he snuck in a few jams from his Chet Faker days and, surprisingly, a couple of songs from his 2015 collaborative EP with Marcus Marr. He frequently changes instruments on stage, sometimes mid-song, jumping between his guitar, piano, and synthesizer as he fills any gaps of space with sound. Halfway through the tour, the backing band is ostensibly prepared for Murphy’s unpredictability and able to keep up with him whether he’s playing in time or hurriedly leaving the stage to speak with a sound engineer.
All in all, Murphy makes sure the experience he’s presenting is exactly as he’s envisioned because his show truly is just that, an experience. This isn’t a show for your casual listener, Murphy commands your attention, daring you to give up on an ascending wave of sound before reaching the peak, laughing in the face of those hoping to just hear the hits. After five years of finding himself, Nick Murphy knows exactly what he’s trying to accomplish and nothing happens, or ends, until it feels just right.