Gig Review: Jake Bugg @ The Colston Hall 25/2/18
by Polly Hember

Everyone can hum the first few bars to Jake Bugg’s ‘Lightning Bolt’. I can recall the first time I heard ‘Two Fingers’. I have been known to repeatedly play ‘Broken’ on long train journeys through my headphones. These early Bugg songs are infectious, acerbic, biting and his debut album Broken topped UK charts and went onto go double platinum at just 18 years of age. His next album Shangri La never quite achieved this success and then On My One now seems like a slight misstep into a hip-hop and dance.

He is now touring with his forth album Hearts That Strain, coming to a packed Colston Hall in Bristol to play old and new songs, that completely wooed a slightly rowdy crowd. With the drums and bass of Broken in my mind, it was a surprise to see Bugg standing solo on the large stage with just a guitar. This return to simple troubadour tradition benefited Bugg exponentially and put the focus on his unique voice, which sounds as raw and fresh as ever.

"These new songs were beautiful but acted as a hard point of departure from his previous work"

He signposted the foray into new songs at each juncture, almost tentatively asking whether “that was okay?” to the Colston Hall. These new songs were beautiful but acted as a hard point of departure from his previous work. ‘Southern Rain’ and ‘Indigo Blue’ were particular highlights, where Bugg crooned these country-blues tinged singles. They sound relaxed and reflective, as opposed to the hungry urgency of Broken.

The gritty, urban sprawl of his debut album seems to have opened itself up, taking the early intentions of ‘Country Song’ and allowing them to unfold, unwind and grow. Hugely influenced by the American South, Hearts That Strain was recorded in Nashville, and backed by studio musicians that worked with country legend Wilson Pickett, duetting with country-singer Noah Cyrus on ‘Waiting’. Performing this new material live, new country songs proved to be as enjoyable and naturally listenable as his previous hits.

Commenting on the fact that it was, in fact, a Saturday night in Bristol, Bugg provided a brilliant back-and-forth with the vocal audience. He was relaxed, charismatic and chatty on-stage; unafraid to engage with the audience, he sung a requested Neil Young cover and downed not one, but two g & t’s after some serious encouragement and peer-pressuring from the crowd. Bugg was incredibly humble and routinely thanked the audience between almost every song; the honest appreciation and upfront enjoyment in his craftmanship was apparent and hugely refreshing.

After a relaxing trip into Nashville sun-soaked tracks, Bugg “picked things up a bit” and launched into an upbeat, highly-charged and boisterous finale, saving ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Lightning Bolt’ until the end. This was a suburb example of a talented musician with a brilliant backlog showcasing a new rootsy sound whilst still engaging with old favourites, both of which were as strong and fierce as ever.

Make sure you catch Jake Bugg on the rest of his UK tour. Hearts That Strain is available to listen on Spotify.

Photos of London Compass Shows, courtesy of Jake

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