Review: Jake Bugg - Solo Acoustic Tour

It’s been six years since Jake Bugg first came onto the scene with his self-titled debut album, reaching number 1 in the UK charts and securing a BRIT nomination at the age of just 19.

Four albums later, after filtering slightly off the mainstream scene, Bugg is back with an acoustic tour of his latest album ‘Hearts That Strain’.

Playing old songs and new, Bugg’s acoustic set was the ultimate proof that you don’t need a big band, a large-scale music production, or an elaborate stage set in order to silence an audience for an hour and half. All he had was his songs, his guitar, and his charisma – and it was certainly enough.

This was the third time I’d seen Bugg perform, and it was incredible to see his transformation over the last five years. Firstly, it was startling to see how much more comfortable he looked on stage, and it was a relief that I no longer had to bite my tongue when he mumbled awkwardly into the microphone to fill the silences – this time, the silences were considerably less awkward. He was friendly, chatty, and engaged the audience by asking them to request songs (of course knowing exactly what their requests were going to be). It felt intimate and comfortable, just as all gigs should be.

Bugg did not disappoint with his set-list. ‘Seen It All’, ‘Simple As This’, Broken’, ‘Two Fingers’ and of course, to close the show, ‘Lightning Bolt’, all made an appearance, much to the audience’s delight. The stand-out performance, however, surprisingly, was his performance of ‘There’s A Beast and We All Feed It’, which combined excellent vocals, guitar playing, and an overall engaging performance – somewhat of an overlooked song from his second album, but one that certainly stole the show that night.

With the crowd consistently demanding ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Seen It All’, Bugg seemed to almost apologetically play his songs from his newest albums, saying sheepishly at the end “thank you for listening to my new songs”. It can’t be denied that Bugg’s new music hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as his first two albums. His third album in particular was written and produced primarily by Bugg, which Pitchfork describes as being “the kind of mistake that pop stars make when they think they’re smarter than the system”. But on the contrary, Bugg has defined it as the “logical next step in my development as a songwriter”. Whilst his new music did not maintain the same indie folk style that cemented his place on the music scene back in 2012, echoing the likes of Don Mclean and Bob Dylan, there is something to be said for an artist who maintains a determination to stay true to himself and his music. ‘Bigger Lover’ and ‘In the Event of my Demise’ don’t have the same catchy, country swing to his earlier music, but they certainly embody a unique and intriguing style that Bugg has successfully made his own.

It was admittedly quite disappointing that there was not one single request from the audience from anything from this third or fourth album, despite us whispering ‘Love Hope and Misery’ under our breath, knowing it would be overshadowed by roaring requests of ‘Two Fingers’. There seemed to be a resistance to acknowledge that Bugg has evolved as an artist, and that he is not the same young country singer that he was when he wrote ‘Country Song’  back in 2012. 

But people like what they like, and they listen to what they like. And Jake Bugg certainly played to the crowd by performing the majority of his most popular tunes, but also stayed true to his musical progression by slipping in the occasional newbie.

Bugg’s stripped back, intimate performance was faultless. It was truly testament to how much power one man and his guitar could have on stage, and even when he realised a quarter of the way through ‘Trouble Town’ that he’d been using the wrong guitar, this only added to the rawness and intimacy of the performance.

Jake Bugg remains underrated as an artist, and I am very excited to see the musical paths that he will take in the future.