Manchester, O2 Apollo
19th October 2016
Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin was there…
The public persona of Jake Bugg as a morose, moody and grumpy individual, along with both his Snow Patrol assisted song writing, has left me in an unforgiving mood of late with all that surrounds the Nottingham musician. Throw into the mix the frankly awful ‘On My One’ single from earlier this year and its safe to say that my expectations were low regarding last nights gig.
Opening with the aforementioned ‘On My One’, the chav-tastic title and cringe-worthy opening line, “I’m just a poor boy, from Nottinghuuuummmmm” would leave Bugg’s folk-singing hero Woody Guthrie stone cold. Bugg’s execution of the offending line is almost beyond parody on record and was no better live. Couple with that the fact that his onstage persona vaguely resembled Bob Dylan’s in his ‘Don’t Look Back’ phase, only served to make the heart sink further. While Dylan looked sharp and contemporary in 1965, Bugg appeared casual at best in 2016. Is it ever acceptable for a musician to appear onstage looking so none descript? There was better dressed people at the bar last night!
Aside from the criticisms flanked at the 22-year-old, one aspect that cannot be denied is Jake Bugg’s guitar playing capabilities. On numerous occasions last night (particularly on ‘Strange Creatures’ and ‘Bitter Salt’) Bugg displayed both his fingerpicking talent and his flair for a guitar solo. The latter being an aspect of his arsenal that reveals itself far too little on record. To give him his due, the boy can sing as well. He belted out “his” numbers with a compelling force and what he lacks in visible vitriol, he more than makes up for in his ability to connect with the whole audience through his vocals.
In a set-list lasting just under ninety minutes, Bugg managed to rattle through an impressive twenty-one songs. ‘Two Fingers’, ‘Seen It All’ and ‘Messed Up Kids’ appearing to be almost effortless.
‘Love, Hope and Misery’ is an astonishing song and begs the question, ‘Could this have been a genuinely big commercial radio hit in the right hands?’ while ‘Never Wanna Dance’ could seriously have been written for Marvin Gaye to perform.
‘Trouble Town’, ‘Put Out The Fire’ and ‘Taste It’ were executed perfectly before the most tender and beautiful moment of the evening occurred during ‘Broken’. Again, one has to concede that as a singer and guitar player Jake Bugg is an extremely talented young man.
Closing with ‘Lightning Bolt’ the audience went home happy and did not seem to care whether or not the songs sung tonight were solely written by the person who performed them. The fact that it has taken Jake Bugg until his third album to manage write all of his songs himself will still leave some of us with mixed feelings about “his” music. Yes, he can sing and he can certainly play, but regarding every other aspect of him as an artist the jury is definitely still out.
Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.