As I’m sure you’re all aware, a concert is something entirely unique in the realm of music. While listening to music has changed dramatically over the last 20 years with the advent of iPods, illegal downloading and YouTube, watching a live music performance is so very different as it is one that can’t be replicated. The tense anticipation for the main act to come on, the begrudged moans at a support act you may not like. The smells, the sights, the people, and of course, the overpowering blast of sound that emanates from a bunch of performers on a stage, and the euphoric shrieks of audience applause. In a word, it’s an experience.
But still, experiences can be not worth one’s while. So when I purchased tickets for Jake Bugg at the Enmore Theatre, I was wondering: Have I made the right choice? What else could I have spent that $60 on? Is Jake Bugg a good live performer? This last question particularly plagued my mind, as I was unsure if Jake Bugg has had the time or experience to develop into a fully fledged and ground shattering artist. Considering his young age (which everybody inevitably does), I asked myself: Could he deliver a good and memorable experience? Short answer. Yes, with a but…
Firstly, it should be noted that Bugg featured two Aussie support acts, and in many ways, they were instrumental in developing how Bugg was received. Amid the bustling of the crowd, while the pre-show songs played over the loud speakers, a tall, bearded man whom many suspected to be a roadie shuffled onstage, picked up an electric guitar, and plugged it in, presumably for a sound-check. Then an overdriven growl sounded from the guitar and the man started cooing in falsetto. Then it was realised that this was no roadie, but Cameron Avery from the band The Growl, quite respected for their association with Tame Impala. He played a few songs, some electric, some acoustic, a couple utilising a loop pedal. He got heckled a fair bit for looking like Jesus and having what was deemed a bad jacket. Although this last occurrence was unfair, it should be noted that Cameron Avery, was not a particularly good performer. At all. Well, at least on this occasion. His voice, while strong, seemed ill-suited to a solo spot. Many of his songs seemed to drag on for intolerable lengths despite being only 3 or 4 minutes long, getting tangled and caught up in their own bridges and unnecessary chord changes. His lyrics left a lot to be desired, and the mixing was just downright horrendous. Purely grating on the senses. I let out a sigh of relief has he took his final bow.
It can be said that this was not a good start to my experience, but “oh well” I thought “things could pick up”. And they did. Next act was The Creases, a Brisbane band who have been stirring up quite a bit of hype since their debut single in November 2013, and their unbelievably and inconceivably lucky rise to public consciousness. In a nutshell, to guys eating pizza and drinking beer one night recorded two songs that same night, then went out on a whim and shot a video for one of the songs, haphazardly edited it, put it online, and went home thinking nothing of it. Two or three weeks later, an email arrived from Tom Travis, head of Rough Trade records (the mecca of indie rock) asking if they could come to London and record their songs and sign a deal with Rough Trade. The Creases and their discovery can justifiably be called the stuff of legends.
They bounced on stage with youthful sprite and plugged in. As they played, a glorious wash of messy guitars, punctual drums and driving bass flowed through the crowd. Their sound shares some common ground with UK shoegazers Toy, however The Creases exhibit a more lo-fi melodicism; one that’s not the slightest bit pretentious, and thoroughly enjoyable. Plaintive vocals and soothing “ooo”s led the charge on an extremely quick-fire progression of pop gems. Their penultimate number, a blistering exuberant cover of Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High” was no less than astounding. And all too soon, their set was over. I’ll take this opportunity now to do a plug for the band. Check out The Creases, their song “I Won’t Wait”, buy it, and try to score the limited edition red vinyl single (like me).
At long last, it was time for Jake Bugg. After the unexpected surprise of The Creases, my expectations had risen fairly. I did notice the fairly simplistic and bare-bones stage set-up; one bass, one guitar and one drumkit. I’m not sure why, but this had me slightly worried. Soon enough though, to the sound of the crackling and spitting “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson, the one and only Bugg indolently swung into view from behind the curtains with his percussionist and bassist to an ecstatic and hungry crowd. They quickly proceeded to play a charming little ditty known as Kentucky Isle, from Bugg’s debut E.P Taste It. Short and bouncy, with sparkling acoustic guitars, a nice way to start. As he hopped back and forth between songs from his debut and his second album, the singles and the deep cuts, one very interesting point dawned on me. It seemed as though when it came to the songs from his universally adored debut album such as “Two Fingers” and “Seen It All”, they seemed a tad empty. Something was lacking. Granted, the singing crowd fleshed things out, but the songs themselves seemed to have the quality of a good cover band at a local pub. When it came to the songs of Shangri-La however, a more professional performer could be seen, especially on the terrific “Messed Up Kids”. When Jake put down the acoustic guitar to pick up an electric one, the results were even greater, with him showing of an unexpected amount of technical ability to the brooding and haunted “Ballad of Mr. Jones”. However, the single most perfect moment which seemed to ensnare the entire theatre was the solo acoustic “Broken”. Deservedly receiving the most applause, “Broken” once again featured Bugg’s nasally whine, an acquired taste for sure, but this time became as luscious and majestic as the lyrics it supported. As he sang the immortally brilliant chorus line “Down in the valley where the church bells cry/I’ll lead them over to your eyes”, my doubts subsided, lifted away with his voice, and I realised that it was a good experience.
Ultimately, my one main problem that I still face with Jake Bugg as a performer, is that he doesn’t interact with his audience. Maybe a mumbled “Thanks” every five songs, but besides that. Nothing. I believe that it’s important for a live performance to be an interactive experience for both audience and performer. Despite this Jake Bugg is a good performer, and I was pleased. The more shows he plays, the more he will be able to refine his style.