“The kid killed it.”
This is how an audience member summed up the performance of Jake Bugg following a gig last week at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston.
Bugg’s music hit me like a lightning bolt. When I heard “Lightning Bolt” in a Gatorade commercial earlier this year, I thought it was a song that had been recorded in the mid-1960s.
Well, not only was “Lightning Bolt” recorded in 2012, it was recorded by a 19-year old with a soul that has lived well beyond his years. Both Rolling Stone and the New York Times have likened Jake Bugg to a young Bob Dylan. For his part, Bugg thinks Dylan is cool, but does not consider him a major influence. Bugg fell in love with music when he heard Don McLean sing “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” on an episode of The Simpsons when he was 12. That’s certainly a good place to start.
Nevertheless, you cannot help but hear Dylan in the timber of Bugg’s voice. But one can also hear the likes of Donovan, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, and The Byrds (particularly Gene Clark) when listening to the words and music of Bugg. The only thing Jake Bugg and Justin Bieber have in common is that they have the same initials. He is the anti-Bieber.
This lightning bolt has taken Britain’s music scene by storm and is gaining listeners in this country who are responding with thunderous applause. His sound has boy bands like One Direction worried that their night won’t stay young and that the sun must rise. Despite his tender age, Bugg is very much a man and yet his day in the sun has only just begun. Music fans, young and old, are yearning to hear something other than auto-tone and to see something beyond back up dancers, a light show and costume changes. It is little wonder that Bugg’s songs have millions of hits on YouTube.
The evening began with a set by roots duo HoneyHoney. Suzanne Santo has a sensuous stage presence whether she is singing, picking the banjo or playing the fiddle. Santo is the best thing to come out of Cleveland since Bob Feller. They were well received by a Boston crowd that isn’t easily impressed.
Following HoneyHoney’s set and while eagerly awaiting Bugg’s arrival, a woman standing to my right lamented, “Nobody knows who The Flying Burrito Brothers are.” I turned to her and said, “I know who The Flying Burrito Brothers are,” and proceeded to name their members.
During our conversation, this woman told me she was 64 and was at the show with her daughter and son-in-law. She said that she heard Bugg on the radio and asked, “Who is this?” Needless to say, she caught the Jake Bugg bug. She is hardly alone in catching this joyous infection.
I should note that when I told her I had recently turned 41, she said, “It’s great to see young people like you are into this type of music.” To which I replied, “I haven’t been described as ‘young people’ in a long, long time.”
Bugg’s hour-long set was mostly from his eponymous debut album as well as some new songs that will likely appear on his recently completed follow up album Shangri-La, which is to be released in the UK in November (no word yet as to when it will be released in the U.S. and Canada). He did not change his clothes once, but must have twenty different guitars as he changed axes after almost every song.
Bugg kept the banter between songs to a minimum and barely broke a smile except when he desperately tried to stifle laughter following an overenthusiastic response by one concertgoer while performing the introspective “Country Song.”
The best was kept for last. During the encore, Bugg did a solo performance of the angelic, yet heartbreaking “Broken” in which a good part of the audience sang along with him. His band then joined him in covering Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey” before ending the evening with (what else?) “Lightning Bolt,” albeit with a little more country flavor.
I had only two quibbles with Jake Bugg’s performance. The first is that he should have introduced his band mates. They deserved a word of acknowledgement. The second was that the show ended too soon. We would have more than delighted to stick around for another hour or two — or perhaps more. But we left happier than we arrived just the same.
The kid is more than alright.