by: Amy Hanna
Show: Date: 6.19.14
Location: Raleigh, NC
Venue: Lincoln Theatre
In the middle of a busy, festival-filled schedule, British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg took some time out to play a few headlining shows in the southeast US, the section of the country he missed on his last few US tours. Last winter, Jake Bugg had just burst onto Britain’s airwaves with his self-titled debut. England took a quick liking to the slick, folky stylings of the Nottingham-born singer, requesting singles like “Seen It All” and “Lightning Bolt” at a constant rate. Across the pond, Bugg is one of 2013’s biggest overnight successes. In the United States, however, Bugg’s success did not come as quickly. It took various television and festival appearances for Bugg to even break a fraction of America. Regardless, Bugg had done enough to coral a few hundred people into small club in downtown Raleigh, NC for his show.
Since I’d heard little to nothing about Jake Bugg’s American audience prior to the show, I was curious as to what kind of demographic I would find in attendance. I arrived at the venue to see a gaggle of well-dressed teenaged girls standing in line. In all my years of going to gigs, this was my first show that I attended by myself, and I felt a wash of comfort at the fact that I wouldn’t have to pretend to be cool around a bunch of guitar-expert adults, many of whom did attend the Jake Bugg show, but certainly weren’t in the majority. The wait in line was short and sweet as I chatted with the girls around me about our expectations and our past experiences with other venues. I was the only one around who had attended a concert at the Lincoln Theatre before — a small, intimate, yet open club venue. We were whisked inside and were met with a comfortable environment, far unlike all the other suffocating club venues I had been to before.
The Silver Palms, a Georgia-based rock band, opened for Jake Bugg. Like Bugg, they all looked incredibly young and inexperienced, and two of the foursome had similar vintage-Beatles bowl cuts. The band commanded a quick, energetic rock set. Banter was almost non-existent; they didn’t seem to have much to say to us, outside “here’s our music, hope you like it,” with expressions blasé as if to say, “but… we really don’t care if you like it.” This band does instrumentation very well; the lead guitarist Adam Drury had plenty of standout moments despite a collected, almost shy demeanor. Vocalist Dalton Drury shined on songs that highlighted his lower register, for example on the song “Badass”, my favorite of the set. The set ended, and I had enjoyed myself, but I was far more concerned with the arrival of the main act to dwell too much on what I’d seen.
I have never seen a performer like Jake Bugg. That is, I have never seen a performer as skilled as Jake Bugg with such little regard to the audience. Through the whole show, Jake Bugg was in his own world — eyes closed, voice soaring, fingers moving like lightning on his guitar, playing complicated riffs with the ease and confidence of a performer double his age. He began his set with a quick, upbeat, hoedown of a song “There’s a Beast and We All Feed It”, from his newest sophomore release, Shangri La. He weaved his way through songs from both albums, with heartwarming acoustic numbers dripping with sweetness and affection like “Me and You” and “Pine Trees”, to huge, singable rock-country tunes like “Messed Up Kids” and “Ballad of Mr. Jones”. One of Jake’s most stunning talents is his ability to weave the melancholy of the slum town he grew up in into every facet of his performance. From his sullen eyes to his cries of anguish as he sang about broken homes, police brutality, and his own addictive habits, his dark past is inescapable. Each song was a constant reminder that he was able to turn his scars into a trade, and amidst the sadness there is a quiet triumph in Bugg’s music.
Easily the most poignant, memorable moment of the night is when Bugg sang “Broken”, an emotionally-charged tear-jerker of a ballad from Jake’s first album rumored to be about a friend or lover of his who attempted suicide (Jake refuses to talk about the lyrical content of the song in interviews, so we will never know). Jake’s backing band walked off-stage, leaving Jake under a single spotlight with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. The raucous, chattery venue fell quiet as Jake sang, his voice weaving through the words with ever-changing emphasis and delicacy. The song carries to a point of drama when he sings, “Down in the valley where the church bells cry/I’ll lead them over to your eyes/Woah/I am one.” The crowd responded immediately, collective voice echoing Jake’s big notes, or cheering. Where he took us, we went; with this song as with the entire set.
Bugg bantered even less than the opener, unbelievably, but seemed to say all that he needed to with the lyrics of his songs and his stunning musicality. Bugg is young, at only 20 years, but when the show ended and Jake took his final bows, I felt that I had visited the mind of an old soul. The show was not interactive by any means, but it was personal, intimate, and inspiring.
Check out upcoming tour dates and news for Jake on his social media, below: