Nottingham’s guitar-strapped, teenage prodigy Jake Bugg is currently on a gruelling tour of the UK which sees him showcase highlights from his debut and upcoming second album Shangri-La. Harley Cassidy heads to Brixton’s 02 Academy to catch him in action. (See also a Jake Bugg photo review here).
He’s been a moody little shit of late, but it’s clear that Jake Bugg can still please a crowd with a simple inclination of the head. Still sporting the Gallagher circa-94 haircut and the simplistic clothing, Bugg does anything but fall back into the shadows of the Brixton 02. Looking more confident and vigilant than ever, this past year has done wonders for Nottingham’s newborn hero.
Whilst current new uptempo numbers Slumville Sunrise and What Doesn’t Kill You jar dissonantly with Bugg’s nasal vocals on record, the effect live is more than satisfactory, opening the gateway to what could never have been associated with a Jake Bugg gig before – baby mosh pits. Now we’ve got some songs with a little pace added to the set list crowds are suddenly given more leeway to jostle wildly in their self-bodied parameter (albeit the final breakdown of show closer Lightning Bolt) without getting dirty looks off lovestruck teenage girls.
Of course, Bugg will always flourish more with the cordial offerings that laid the foundation for his debut, and it’s tracks like Broken and Fire which stir the crowd into a rapt reverie. It’s pretty easy to peel a Jake Bugg gig: on the outer rim you have the demographical over 25s clutching their third pint, nodding in time to the music and bigging the lad up because “Johnny Marr’s said some good things about him”. Break through and you reach the middle; tar-like in consistency and packed with loved up couples, disgruntled parents and drunken “lads” with feather cuts and Harrington jackets. This is the segment hardest to push through before you reach the doe-eyed fangirls who’ve been queuing since seven to reach the coveted barrier-clinging spot.
Pitch perfect throughout, Bugg sings with a clarity and truthfulness that belies his younger years although it’s hard to shake the George Formby singing Johnny Cash persona. Add that to a growing mastery of his first love, the guitar, and he has potential written all over him in a fine, black, marker pen. My only problem with Jake Bugg is that his character is starting to flounder before him. Reaching the heady heights of stardom has certainly improved his confidence and appearance, but it also makes you question what sentimentality he can have left with contradictions cropping up left, right and centre, the most obvious being his disdain for manufactured music when his debut was built heavily by other songwriters in terms of the lyrical process.
This carries on in his live performance. Whilst the talent is there for all to see, it’s hard to truly connect with Jake on a personal level. The songs he deals in supposedly come from the heart, but you never really see emotion pour from him the way you want it to. Based on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that Bugg is still trying to find his feet regardless of the simple guitar-in-hand image that’s been built up around him and the sudden change of style on his upcoming album Shangri La is testament to that. But, whilst we still wait for the finalised character it’s interesting to see what other territories he delves into both live and on record.
All words by Harley Cassidy. You can read more from Harley on Louder Than War here.