Photography by Josh Groom @JoshGroom
With the conclusion of Splendour 2016 this past weekend, the vastly talented UK singer-songwriter Jake Bugg teamed up with Manchester based Blossoms to commence his strand of Australian sideshows last night at the architectural beauty that is the Sydney State Theatre.
Despite being only 22, Bugg already has three full-length albums, with the most recent, On My One, having debuted on 17 June. The Nottingham native has harnessed a fair amount of acclaim, with his surprisingly developed vocals and refusal to remain stigmatised to a specified genre. Grasping inspiration from early legends such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Don McLean, Bugg intricately finds a way to fuse, folk, contemporary rock, Americana, acoustic-blues – suffice to say, the list goes on.
The crowd is an eclectic mix of people, ranging in age, and nearly fills out the entirety of the theatre. It’s clear his music is an easy listen to a vast range of ears; however having recently played a consistent stream of festivals, it was going to be interesting to see whether a seated setting would have any impact on the show; and consequently, it partially did.
Sultry acoustics with the low bellowing of recent single ‘On My One’ encapsulates the room and a thunderous applause welcomes the headliner to the stage. The cool vibe swiftly diverges, as acoustic strumming transitions into sizzling electric riffs. With fans gripping tight to the edges of their seats, first release ‘Two Fingers’ illicits an expected boisterous response and sing-a-long flooded with unfettered bliss.
Almost instantaneously, the venue’s sound reception of Bugg’s soaring vocals and nasally (in the best way possible) upper register proves ideal. It’s quite impressive how much more full and powerful the young singer sounds live. There’s an added grit and rasp vocally, which in my opinion, renders a captivating quality that makes one appreciate him more as a musician live than on record.
Nonetheless, succeeding tracks ‘Seen it All’ and ‘There’s A Beast and We All Feed It’ kept the place up-beat and boppy, while a few remaining stragglers shuffled into the theatre. Bold sonic departures and prompt guitar swaps become a commonality. A stream of new album tracks including the favoured, ‘Love, Hope and Misery,’ intertwine with rare, slight moments of banter that regard the chilled out setting and slightly quiet ambiance. The light-hearted fan critiques provoke some slight atmospheric changes, as people start to exit their seats and take to the aisles to induce more involvement.
The setlist was a strong intermitted blend of old and new tunes, with the inclusion of a cover of ‘Jezebel.’ Despite On My One’s predecessors harking the majority of acclaim there remained a fair amount of praise for his recently released tracks, particularly ‘Livin’ Up Country’ and ‘Bitter Salt.’
There is negligible difficulty in deciphering the tracks that went down the best, as song receptions remained parallel, though select highlights, ‘Slumville Sunrise’ and ‘Kingpin,’ sent out infectious sensations of rock goodness. Bugg is a no nonsense, talented musician, singer and performer. He keeps the chatting to a bare minimum and simply sings his heart out to the fullest, with the listeners loving every second of it.
A rendition of ‘Gimme the Love,’ with its frenzied instrumentals and contemporary tinges, proved a bit too pop-y and less of the vivacious, folky rock Jake Bugg. Yet, for some, it prompted a bit of excitement for the show’s conclusion.
Apparently the restrictive venue was a bit of an odd surprise for Bugg as well. Unaware of the seated structure, he admitted his regret of not having prepared more acoustically based songs to suit the setting. Lucky for the audience, it sparked an impromptu solo performance of the lyrically pure ‘Broken,’ which rightfully received a standing ovation.
With Bugg being such a versatile artist, both instrumentally and vocally, it indisputably should’ve been an unseated show. When you have such a vast range of saccharine ballads, spontaneous guitar solos and groove inducing synths that add such a riotous lively element, but are limited to the confines of theatre seating, there is always a lingering thought of “wow, I would enjoy this so much more if I was able to be up and moving.”
No question, the show remained as captivating as possible, and Bugg remained tight throughout its totality. He managed to create a connection with audience through his conviction as he sang with purpose and emotion, ultimately proving time and time again that high levels of conversation are needless during his performances.
Levels of restraint flew out the door, as the crowd surged the stage for an electric finale of ‘Lightning Bolt.’ Oozing some definite Bob Dylan influences, it erased all the forced composure that the venue instilled, and everyone was finally able to let loose–an opportunity they’d been itching for the entire time.