Before playing a track from On My One this evening, Jake Bugg describes the album as a bit of an odd one. Compared to the accolades lavished upon his debut, his third album proved to be a bit of a musical misfire for many fans and the Nottingham-born singer-songwriter seems to have been determined to make amends, quickly knuckling down in Nashville to record and release album number four, Hearts That Strain just one year later. Needless to say, with the support of Dan Auerbach on guitar and a timeless duet with Miley’s Cyrus’ sister Noah providing one of the highlights, the result is so much more satisfying than than On My One. This tour is an opportunity to present these new songs in an intimately solo, acoustic format before expanding the tapestry of the tracks on a much more extensive tour across the United States and Europe later in the winter.
Complimenting the solo theme this evening are Adam French and Georgie. Despite battling the clamour of early-arrivers, French manages to engage those willing to give him a chance with a collection of honest and earnest songs along with an impressive cover of The Walkmen’s The Rat which perhaps confirms a preoccupation for the darker end of the acoustic spectrum. Fellow Nottingham native Georgie is next and her songs are thematically similar to Jake Bugg’s first record in that they seem to be a reflection on personal, at times booze sodden experiences. Featuring particularly robust vocals, Georgie is certainly a force to be reckoned with and the high ceilings of Stoke’s Victoria Hall enhance the vocal sincerity she projects.
By the time Jake Bugg emerges on to the stage, Victoria Hall is fit to burst. Taking a seat on the large stage, the twenty-three year old is dwarfed by his surroundings, but there is a surging confidence that emerges once he starts performing and the partisan crowd respond to the stripped back nature of the songs, which allows Bugg’s emphatic guitar work to take centre stage. This is no more apparent than on the subtle, slow-burning Hearts That Strain, which opens the show. Although the evening is an opportunity to try out these new tracks, Strange Creatures becomes an early highlight of the evening and it’s darkly rich, bluesy tone is enhanced by Bugg’s introduction which informs us all that the song was surprisingly rejected by TV’s zombie fest The Walking Dead; it’s certainly a track infused with the murky southern grit of the show’s Georgia setting.
Since his emergence on the scene in 2012, Dylan comparisons seem to have never been that far away, but his cover of the Glen Campbell song Wichita Lineman demonstrates Bugg’s particularly versatile vocals this evening and the nasal qualities of his delivery draw pleasing comparisons to The Decemberist’s Colin Meloy. Despite the recent release of Hearts That Strain, there is a continued request for material from his double platinum debut from the crowd and they are rewarded by a particularly emotional rendition of Broken, which is a fragile wonder enhanced by the Victoria Hall erupting into song during the chorus. This is followed by the inevitable Taste It and Two Fingers which is complimented by slightly more raucous crowd participation which Bugg clearly appreciates. Waiting and Indigo Blue demonstrate the new record’s timeless diversity but there is no doubt that it’s the coarser fare from the debut record in particular which connects with the audience this evening, and the abrasiveness of final track Lightning Bolt allows the crowd to leave on a high.
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Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto