Jake Bugg steps onto the stage at Colston Hall to a packed venue, armed with nothing but a guitar, a gin and tonic and his stylishly provocative voice.
Following 2017’s less than favourably reviewed album “Hearts That Strain,” it may be a mark of his declining success that the majority of his setlist tonight is made up of his earlier material. That said, there is no evidence of the creative restlessness from the last two albums as he kicks off with the unapologetic and emotionally charged ‘How Soon The Dawn’, before going on to play earlier cuts ‘Slide’ and ‘Simple As This’. While they may be sullen tales of misspent youth, the nod to his younger days are met with lively enthusiasm from the audience.
Tunes ‘Bigger Lover’ and ‘Trouble Town’ are James Blunt-esque ballads accompanied with quirky banter and another gin and tonic from the troubadour, but it’s a restless audience that meets tonight’s ringman during the lethargic ‘Indigo Blue’ and ‘Country Song’. Raw and with sentiment, laid over a shuffle-beat acoustic guitar, they deserve more than the response that meets them.
However, we’re given a welcome reminder of just how talented the 23-year old Nottingham artist is when he acts on an arbitrary request from the audience and plays a disarmingly soulful rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man.’ Paired with album 2 opener ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’, it’s an energetic interlude that transports you to boundless summer evenings on College Green with a six pack of ciders, and a fine way to get the crowd back on his side.
The highlight of the set comes with the anthemic ‘Broken.’ From the heartbreaking opening fingerpicking to the all encompassing final singalong, it’s played with an authenticity that is significantly absent in his latest tracks. As the audience calls for Bugg to finish off his third pint of gin and tonic, he launches into the gentle rock and roll of ‘Seen It All’ before the retro-highlight, ‘Two Fingers’, where Bugg’s voice is drowned by the sound of hundreds of his biggest fans.
Although the rebellious observer of teenage misdeeds has been replaced over the years with a young artist filled with regret over life and love lost on the road, Bugg’s musical talent is still omnipresent in this gig. He guards the mic with astonishing stage presence and allows his songs, laden with Bob Dylan and Nashville’s influence as they may be, to do the talking. To the critics that say Bugg has lost his touch, or his ability to revive his beloved folk music for the thumb generation, I’d tell them to watch the kid play live.