Jeff Buckley sings like a man with more than a few exposed nerves. He sings mostly in an expressive falsetto given to wild shifts in volume and hysteria, delivering messages of isolation, romance and other urban ailments to uncomfortable extremes.
That voice, and the jazz-flavored, charged rock he plays behind it, makes Buckley a self-indulgent new pop artist with the best of intentions: a willingness to take unexpected chances with his music and audience.
At the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood on Thursday, Buckley and a three-piece band explored subtlety through passages that had the light touch of a cool jazz combo, only to shatter the quiet with sudden bursts from Buckley’s electric guitar. It was difficult pop played well, reflecting deep influences from the likes of Leonard Cohen and other rock sophisticates, including Buckley’s father, the late cult-hero singer-songwriter Tim Buckley, whose “Kangaroo” was the encore.
The night was also a preview of young Buckley’s debut album, “Grace,” to be released next month on Columbia Records, with many of Buckley’s same fragile arrangements, the moments of feedback from his plugged-in acoustic, the occasional jarring crescendo.
Buckley wore faded Bohemian threads Thursday that perhaps better reflected his life now on New York’s Lower East Side, rather than his earlier years playing in Hollywood. Between songs, he was achingly soft-spoken on such matters, as if the vocal excesses of his performance left him too taxed for anything else.