At just 19 years-old, and with two full-length albums already under his belt, Jake Bugg has been stirring up something of a storm in the music world recently. And not just in terms of commercial success — confirmed by a sold-out Friday night show at New York City’s cavernous Terminal 5, complete with support slot from Stroke member Albert Hammond, Jr. — but critically, too; the young musician from Nottingham, UK has, on several occasions, been hailed as a new Bob Dylan.In truth, Bugg’s voice is less Robert Zimmerman and more like the unsubtle Northern English inflections of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner — at least in that band’s early days — with the occasional Liam Gallagher scowl thrown in for good measure. Of course, Bugg can’t control the hype that forms around and about him, but on Jan. 10, in a set that lasted just over an hour, he was also also unable to live up to it.
The main reason for this was a simple one: Bugg lacked feeling in his performance — nary a trace of heartfelt emotion or passionate sincerity. There were, occasionally, moments when it felt like he cared about and meant what he was singing, but they were few and far between. Skiffle-influenced openers “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It” and “Trouble Town” were dispensed in a somewhat blasé fashion and sounded so similar to each other that they may as well have been the same song. Even worse, Bugg looked bored playing them.
“Seen It All,” and its narrative of youthful despondency and violence might work well on record, also lacked conviction — “I’ve seen it all,” sang Bugg, “nothing shocks me anymore after tonight.” To be honest, shock — or any human reaction, for that matter — seemed beyond his reach at Terminal 5. Elsewhere, the jaunty tune of ‘Two Fingers’ jaunty tune was undermined by Bugg’s listless vocals, while “Kingpin,” a rollicking number reminiscent of Oasis, and “Slumville Sunrise,” which sounded like it could be an early Arctic Monkeys song, both suffered from the disconnect between what Bugg was singing and how he was singing it.
That wasn’t just symptomatic of the songs, however. Bugg’s perfunctory performance was matched only by his lack of stage charisma. Barely a word was said to the audience in the hour he was onstage, and even his expressions of gratitude came off slightly disingenuous. Calculated rock star cool is one thing — it’s something that Hammond, Jr. (and The Strokes) have in abundance and for them it works incredibly well — but this was indifference of a different kind, an unintentional detachment from his immediate surroundings that, though barely noticed by a crowd of fans who fawned over and screamed at his every move, smacked of borderline offensive apathy.
That said, there were moments when Bugg’s talent did shine through. A solo acoustic segment in the middle of the set led to the two most tender moments of the night — a sweet, if not wholly convincing, performance of “Country Song” and “Broken,” a moving ballad that actually sounded heartbroken and which, deservedly, garnered the loudest cheer of the night. Elsewhere, the moody and ominous atmospherics of “The Ballad Of Mr Jones” ably demonstrated Bugg’s notable talents on the guitar. More importantly, it was one of the very few instances where his passion came through — even the tender strains of “Simple As This” and the rousing closer “Lightning Bolt” struggled to find their soul. After all, it’s not what you play but how you play it.
Bugg probably doesn’t care — not when the gig was sold-out to begin with — but as his profile rises, it’s something that Bugg might want to work on.
There’s a Beast and We All Feed It
Seen It All
Simple as This
Storm Passes Away
Messed Up Kids
Ballad of Mr Jones
What Doesn’t Kill You
A Song About Love