Jake Bugg at First Avenue, 1/17/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess

Jake Bugg
With Albert Hammond Jr. and the Skins
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, January 17, 2014

Jake Bugg fittingly covered Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey" during his encore at a sold-out First Avenue on Friday night. At that moment, it became quite clear that if the 19-year-old singer/songwriter keeps going at this rate, he will no doubt play a part in the future of rock 'n' roll. That's not to say that Bugg is leading some sort of rock revival that sweeps through the music world every few years -- far from it.

Bugg's decidedly retro style and sound is a throwback to the days when Bob Dylan made the brazen transition from folk to electric, with plenty of skiffle and Brit Pop influences thrown in for good measure. And that potent combination was more than enough to transfix the packed club during Bugg's stellar 70-minute set.

See Also: Slideshow: Jake Bugg at First Avenue, 1/17/14

Bugg was backed by a drummer and bassist, who both were set up on the back corners of the stage to accentuate the fact that this was Jake's music as well as his moment. And while both unintroduced musicians were serviceable and innocuous, some of the best moments of the set were when Bugg played solo, begging the question if he might be better served ditching the band entirely. His songs and his talent are enough to carry a show on their own.

Photos by Erik Hess

Bugg and the band took to the stage to the weathered strains of Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues," perhaps a subtle revelation that Jake might already be in the midst of a creative conflict, while also paying a tasteful homage to his inspirations. The set took a while to fully find a spark, however, as the quick little ditty, "There's a Beast and We All Feed It" and "Trouble Town" breezed by without much of an impact. A rousing "Seen It All" got things going, though you have to question just how much Bugg has indeed witnessed in his scant 19 years.

Bugg does need to work on his showmanship a bit, as he muttered sincere but barely audible words of thanks between songs and little else, content to let his music carry the show. It left the audience to connect with his songs and not his personality or charm. Bugg is resolutely focused on his music, and is on quite a prolific creative run at this point, having released two well-received records in quick succession, and the set drew equally from both albums. "Storm Passes Away" had a classic '50s pulse to it, with echoes of the Everly Brothers layered in the melody and tones of the track, while the anthemic "Two Fingers" epitomized a brash, youthful confidence, and caused much of the audience to mistakenly hold up peace signs during the rousing chorus instead of the impudent British gesture.

Bugg switched to electric guitar for a couple of spirited numbers, "Messed Up Kids" and "Ballad of Mr. Jones," which featured expansive lyrics atop a bluesy beat, augmented by moody red lighting and a brief but scorching guitar solo from Bugg -- while also serving as a salute to Dylan himself and his indelible takedown of the Joneses of the world in "Ballad of a Thin Man." The band then ceded the stage entirely to Bugg for a couple of solo acoustic numbers that proved to be the highlights of the set. Tender renditions of "Pine Trees" and "Broken" had First Avenue as quiet as it can get, with Bugg especially losing himself in the disconsolate chorus of "Broken," as his aching vocals rang true throughout the club.

From there the set truly ignited, as the band returned to the stage for the simmering, Oasis-like churn of "Simple Pleasures," and the skiffle-like stomp of "Green Man," which again featured a rollicking guitar solo from Bugg, who rips into those incisive riffs as casually as if he's tying his shoes. It all appears to just come so easy and natural to Bugg when he is performing, reminiscent of world-class athletes who make even the most difficult moves look simple enough to deceive novices into believing that they can pull them off. Bugg's songs are rather uncluttered and straightforward, but they are catchy enough to keep a crowd's attention while being deep enough to belie the age of their author.

Photo by Erik Hess

The main set ended with a flurry of fun, spirited songs, with a storming take on "Kingpin" followed quickly by the Buddy Holly-esque charm of "Taste It." Bugg then sped up the verses to "Slumville Sunrise," delivering his lyrics in double time to give the song an added urgency, before bringing the main set to a close with a lively take on his current hit, "What Doesn't Kill You," with the crowd seeing the band off with a rousing, well-earned ovation.

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