With last year’s Hearts That Strain being largely a stripped-back affair, it made perfect sense for Jake Bugg to embark on a solo acoustic tour rather than trying to fit the new songs into a bigger ‘band’ sound. However, in truth, this approach could have happened at any point since his arrival as a seemingly fully-fledged folk singer back in 2012. He may look as if he has strolled out of Oasis but, at their heart, many of his songs owe more to the likes of Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash rather than anyone of a more modern age. Tonight showed just what one singer and an acoustic guitar can do.
Support came from Georgie, a singer/songwriter from Mansfield whose set of country-fused folk met with a good reaction. Brighton Dome is a big space for a solo acoustic artist to fill, but her affecting voice made an impact with tracks like ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Wild Cat’. A slowed down version of The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ was a treat, but it was the injection of pace given by single ‘Too Much TV’ that showed her talent the most. Although it would have obviously gone against the theme of the evening, there was a sense that Georgie’s set would have been elevated by having a band of sorts to play off of. Regardless, there was plenty of potential shown here.
As Vangelis’ classic ‘Rachel’s Song’ from Blade Runner shimmered eerily around the venue, the stage was set simply in preparation for the main man. Casting aside the band for this tour has been a brave but worthy move, with much of Hearts That Strain echoing the classic sound of West Coast 60s folk-pop of Burt Bacharach and his ilk. Hair cast over his eyes, Bugg sat on a chair in the centre of stage and moved rapidly through a fantastic set. When he originally came to fame, at times it seemed to be that he was erroneously pigeonholed as an indie-rocker when in fact he was always much more interesting than that. The Johnny Cash steam train rhythm of ‘Taste It’ electrified the room, his phenomenal voice capping off a rapid-fire guitar display while his offer of, “You can sing along if you like” before ‘Two Fingers’ was gratefully received.
As the night continued, there was a great sense of a set list being made up as he went along. “I don’t know if there’s anything you want to hear?” he asked at one point, before being drowned out by hundreds of voices all asking for different tracks. Eventually settling for a gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, the entire night became almost like a partnership between audience and artist (ignoring the one ever-so-slightly irritating banter-merchant from down the front). In most shows, acoustic segments are an opportunity for an artist to make themselves look ‘authentic’ – however in this case, it was the real deal. ‘Country Song’ was stunningly beautiful, while ‘Broken’ was exquisite in its fragility – one of those moments where you can feel the silence as every single audience member hushed in reverence.
Balancing slower numbers with more upbeat pieces throughout, there was a real ebb and flow to the show – and no time to get bored, as 21 songs were rattled through in just over an hour and a quarter. Finishing off, of course, with a rollicking ‘Lightning Bolt’, this acoustic night (and tour) was complete. It now presents Bugg with a dilemma. The venue was nowhere near sold out, a surprise lessened by the fact that he is still marketed in some ways as a star of the indie world instead of what he is – a folk troubadour with the same talent for capturing real life moments as the greats from the past. Yet for me, he was more impressive tonight than I have ever seen him before – stripped back, relaxed, just great songs performed really well. Promising that he will be back with a full band soon, the question of which direction he wants to go in lies ahead of him. For now, what was important was the here and now. And that was very special indeed.