Onstage, 19-year-old Archy Marshall looked like a surly high-schooler on class portrait day: a too-big brown sport coat, a thrift-shop tie and a perpetual discontented sneer.
But whenever he opened his mouth at his headlining show Wednesday night at the Fonda Theatre, the wounded growl that came out had a rough wisdom all its own.
Marshall's project, King Krule, doesn't have many peers in contemporary music. His gravelly slur gets him deserved Tom Waits allusions; his torrent of bummed-out, street-level lyricism puts him in the line of English greats like the Fall and the Jam. The music on his debut, "6 Feet Beneath the Moon," almost sounds like angry smooth jazz -- moody diminished and augmented guitar chords, played without distortion but with a post-punky panic.
He's got fans in Beyoncé and Frank Ocean, and Wednesday's set proved why many more are likely to follow them.
As a performer, Marshall pulls off the intriguing trick of evoking teenage emotions with adult jaundice. Unlike his fellow young wordy U.K. rock peers Arctic Monkeys, there's no nightlife glamour or zippy social commentary here.
Songs such as "Baby Blue" and "Rock Bottom" feel like youth as it's actually lived by the young -- bored, disenchanted, sad and dreamy. Marshall's accent rivals that of the Pogues' Shane MacGowan for boozy, lonely inflection (though presumably he couldn't get served at the Fonda bar), and between songs he'd occasionally have hard-to-follow shouting fits that put the audience on a real edge.
But there's a tenderness and thoughtfulness to his arrangements that kept King Krule from just becoming the latest Angry Young Man. His three-piece backing band has a jazz education, and used these small tools to build a subtly evocative web of feelings.
In the hands of the Fall's Mark E. Smith, a song like "The Krockodile" with its hook of "I can't see my eyes" would come off like a blast of grotty, punky subway air. But with Krule's time-bending pace and dark-shaded chords, Marshall came off more like a teen-guy Cassandra, seeing an endless pit of isolation ahead for us all.
Sometimes, his debts to jammy jazz-fusion went on a little long, and some concision in the writing and playing would have sharpened the emotional fangs that these songs have at their core. But who knew the time was so right for a disaffected jazz-punk balladeer in a baggy suit?
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