Identity in music is something all artists must have. Having people know who they are is a massive positive, but for a lot of acts, it isn’t the be all and end all. For most artists though, knowing who they are is intrinsic to their success and self-satisfaction in their work. For Nick Murphy his musical identity is something entirely different. Taking to Sydney’s Enmore Theatre, the artist formerly known as Chet Faker (and still definitely referred to as) tried to embrace his first physical release under his birth name. And while the show was sold out, it felt as though neither he nor his fans were ever truly on the same page throughout the set.
When Nick Murphy announced he was no longer going to perform under the Chet Faker persona, there were definitely a few eyebrows raised. I mean, it wasn’t the first time an artist has changed their name, but the polar opposites that Nick Murphy brought with the name change was something that, more than two years on, I honestly feel like he’s still coming to terms with. On one hand you had Chet Faker, a bluesy, downbeat act that nestled somewhere between jazz, blues and indie. Chet was a shy character, but not one that lacked confidence. On the other hand, Nick Murphy is an act that is more open, erratic, full of bravado and seemingly more concerned with building up this new persona whilst hoping his fans forget who he was and what he released five years ago.
His Enmore set felt incongruent and confused. The crowd never really got on board with Run Fast Sleep Naked Nick Murphy, and felt a little lost trying to re-connect with Built on Glass Chet Faker. With this in mind, there were definitely moments throughout the set that felt like the show was just getting ready to take off (the re-working of “Trouble With Us” was a little loose, but it still slaps). The early addition of new track “Yeah I Care” was a nice little bit of spice, as Murphy’s vocals filled the room and the beats per minute lifted.
Throwing in Built On Glass tracks was always going to work. There was no doubt there. Re-arranging tracks so they don’t resemble the song that fans have grown to know, love and appreciate is always a risk, and sadly I don’t think it worked entirely for Murphy. “Gold” was the first track of the night to gain massive applause and see phone cameras raised en masse. The opening bass line was unmistakable and threw you back more than five years. While “Gold” was represented justly enough, the same couldn’t be said about “Talk Is Cheap”. As his biggest song, subtle changes would be appreciated, but re-working the track so it lost its essence wasn’t ideal. It was still a decent showing, but felt like it had been flushed of the ingredients that made “Talk Is Cheap” such a ground-breaking song. With this in mind, “1998” and its changes didn’t detract from the ingenuity it had upon its original release.
New track “Harry Takes Drugs on the Weekend” was an early set highlight, as the four piece band came into their own and went some way to winning the crowd over. The more sombre and sincere moments of the night were great. The simplistic, Bon Iver-esque “Novocaine and Coca Cola” (played as part of the encore) was a strength Murphy should continue to use, while the build on “Never No” brought together the strengths in Murphy’s vocals as well as the reliability of the band. This was the set at its strongest.
While these moments helped the set, there were definitely times where you genuinely had no idea what was going on, why it was happening and what was with Murphy’s on-stage movements. Set Closer “Medication”, while not a new song, had a weird Tim Minchin rock opera x Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy vibe to it. While two variables that are great separately, when combined it leads to a lot of head scratching.
On the whole, Nick Murphy was ballsy attempting this reinvention. You can’t fault him for wanting to break away from the identity that his former persona brought. Change is good when done well. I hope Nick Murphy continues taking risks with new music, but sometimes messing with the tried and tested tracks that have gotten results in the past isn’t worth the risk.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Run Fat Sleep Naked is out now.
The reviewer attended this concert in Sydney on the 14th May 2019.