By Eric Pulsifer
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 4, 2013
Dressed in black from head to toe, 19-year-old Jake Bugg took to the Austin Venture Stage at 5 p.m. Friday with the same dead-serious expression photographed on the cover of his 2012 debut. You’d figure Bugg could spare a smile: He’s the latest in the line of exceptional singer-songwriters to be heralded by some as the second coming of Bob Dylan. A less sensational comparison might be made to Ryan Adams or a less whiny Conor Oberst. Still, others have compared him to Buddy Holly or Woody Guthrie — not bad company for a performer who’s still too young to buy a drink at the festival.
Bugg opened his set with jangling acoustic guitar, launching into the stomping "Trouble Town." His set was filled with highlights from his self-titled debut, plus a pair of songs from his upcoming Rick Rubin-produced sophomore album, "Shangri La," and a cover of Neil Young’s "Hey Hey, My My." (Get it?) Backed only by a bassist and a drummer, Bugg swapped guitars frequently. (At times, it seemed there were more stage hands bringing Bugg guitars than there were members of his band.)
For "Ballad of Mr. Jones," one the weaker points of his set, Bugg plugged in a Stratocaster for a by-the-numbers 30-second guitar solo, and then went into the slow, acoustic ballad "Broken," which he performed without his backing band. Sadly, the quiet number was neutered of most of its emotional punch thanks to an especially chatty crowd. But, Bugg is at his best on rambling songs — the type with enough rock to drown out the talkers — and just like that, as I was about to have to politely scream for the sea of people to please shut up as I raised one finger in the air, Bugg reeled the crowd back in and into a singalong with "Two Fingers." His latest single, "What Doesn’t Kill You," stood out as one of the rowdiest tunes played. It’s a youthful, bouncy Brit rock song that could have come from Arctic Monkeys’ first album.
Bugg burned through his 45-minute set with little banter in his thick Nottingham accent, save for naming some songs and thanking the crowd for coming out.
"I’ve seen it all; nothing shocks me anymore," he sang on "Seen It All." Bugg’s game isn’t new or shocking — he wears his influences on his sleeves — but he does it so much better than most.
1. Trouble Town
2. Seen It All
3. Simple As This
4. Ballad of Mr. Jones
6. Me and You
7. Two Fingers
8. Taste It
9. Slumville Sunrise
10. What Doesn’t Kill You
11. Hey Hey, My My (Neil Young cover)
12. Lightning Bolt