Touring since October, local Notts boy Jake Bugg has already had quite a year, with his appeal quickly gaining momentum after making appearances stateside and performing to sell-out crowds across England. As a result, his rescheduled show at Birmingham’s Institute was greeted with high expectations.
Opening for the eponymous eighteen-year-old were folky Dubliners Hudson Taylor. No doubt riding on the crest that is the ‘Mumford movement’, their acoustic riffs and harmonies were toe-tapplingly catchy. Their charming Irish lilts came through strongly on the vocals – especially on the likes of ‘Chasing Rubies’ – and each song of their set was pacy and passionate, interrupted only by their repeatedly thanking the audience.
Tennessee-born Valerie June then took to the stage, with her feisty presence usurped only by her eye-catching Medusa-like hair. That is, until she started singing. Her voice was magnificently distinctive, reaching a volume one could hardly have expected. Her Deep South accent and roots were wonderfully palpable throughout as she combined playing on acoustic and electric guitars, as well as her “baby” banjo, on which she performed melodic gospel song ‘Somebody to Love’. Finishing on ‘Pushing Against The Stone’, the bass line seared through the audience as her sultry, almost-piercing voice continued to captivate: a delight to behold.
Then arrived the boy we’d all been waiting for. Jake Bugg hardly acknowledged the audience’s cheers and hoots, instead fiddling with his guitar and launching straight into ‘Fire’. With his vocals as raw and sublime as they sound on record, he switched between acoustic and electric instruments with astonishing efficiency (if anything, he could have lingered on each crowd’s enjoyment of each number). Mesmerised and occasionally rowdy, the audience (of a surprisingly mixed age) sang along with zeal; at one point, a small group broke out with what I assume was a local Nottingham chant.
The atmosphere changed with each new song: mellow, tender tunes such as ‘Trouble Town’, ‘Simple As This’ and ‘Someplace’ were stripped back and evocative, sung under an ethereal spotlight and with a poignancy that belies Bugg’s age. He too transformed as the set ensued. He began almost-taciturn, if not just shy, speaking very little between each song, but he gradually warmed up to compliment the audience on their accompanying vocals, also introducing new single ‘Seen It All’. Barely moving from his central spot on the stage, he managed to transfix nonetheless with his Dylan-esque troubadour image and gritty vocal style.
With a flawless and beguiling confidence, Bugg went on to flow from the bluesy ‘Ballad Of Mr. Jones’ to the hypnotic ‘Slide’. Both were consistently brilliant and magnetic, but the addictive riffs of ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Taste It’ found Bugg at his best. ‘Two Fingers’ in particular displayed his talent for complexity, opening with acoustic strumming before the tempo gradually kicked it up to a notch that saw the crowd dancing along enthusiastically.
What we’d really been waiting for, though, was the Olympic anthem that accompanied most of Usain’s triumphs in summer 2012: the utterly raucous ‘Lightning Bolt’, which Bugg rightly saved for last. This marked the only time that the crowd became particularly rowdy, and with riffs that electric, one could hardly blame them.
Bugg departed the stage to rapturous applause, quickly followed by chants for his return. Politely obliging, he returned to perform a mesmeric encore of ‘Broken’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, both of which showcased his country influences, as well as confirming that this young man is definitely a talent to watch