Upon entering possibly Sydney’s best venue for live music, I am immediately struck by the eclectic make-up of tonight’s audience. This observation is validated at the bar. Waiting patiently for an overpriced can of VB, I find myself wedged between a very young maiden who can’t have been much over the mandatory 18 years of age and a fella from Leeds who looks to have lived a substantially fast life for well over half a century.
With the glorious strains of The Tams “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” filling the air between a non-descript opening act and the young man himself, the crowd begin to settle into the evening and anticipation grows.
A decent cheer goes up as the all-in-black Cash-like figure of Nottingham born Jake Bugg cuts a swathe through the dry-ice and makes his way to the front of the stage. We are greeted by a little country ditty sans vocals, that is finished with an “Evening Sydney!” as the last note fades. This is almost the sum total of his patter all night. Engaging he ain’t. But his music certainly is, let me make that abundantly clear.
‘Fire’ is next up and the clarity of his vocal makes the cynical among us wonder if technology is at use in some shape or form. I mean, even Ian Brown sounds acceptable nowadays. But no, Bugg’s unique vocals are remarkable, mesmerising even, and thankfully cracks do appear, although very seldom.
I’m soon left feeling a bit daft as the first chorus rolls along. I bellow out, “Fi yi ya! Fi yi ya yire ya!” and nobody within earshot joins in. The Aussie crowd at play again. You get the feeling that if I was on the other side of the planet, it would be full on karaoke with the audience banging out at least every chorus, if not the better known songs in their entirety.
It takes ‘Trouble Town’, the fourth song in, to realise that the packed theatre isn’t actually inanimate as some gentle shuffling from side to side and a little nodding ensues. Strewth!!
‘Seen it All’ follows and brings a rather more Indie-Rock tint to Bugg’s countrified lens and in turn sees the patronage graduate to actual real gig-goers. There’s singing, dancing, clapping and everything. What’s that? A drink tossed into the air? That’s plain dangerous!
The tomfoolery soon recedes as “Simple as This” sees the troubadour channel John Denver and the crowd once again turn to stone and stare, mostly in disbelief. You can see concert-goers here and there look at each other, an odd smirk here, a jaw dropped in awe there, as if to say, “Wow, this kid is unreal”. And he is.
The night progresses steadily through the wonder that is his debut album and it leaves me to ponder the usual question on the back of such a triumph. How can he match his first outing? Will difficult second-albumitis pollute his creative juices? I think not. ‘Seen it All’ as an example, indicates possible changes in direction, and if he really wanted to, god forbid, he could become an arena phenomenon. Please NO!
Asides from his obvious vocal talent, he is also a more than impressive guitarist, or so I am informed. I nipped to the toilets during ‘Slumville Sunrise’ (damn you VB!) where a fellow wee’er shared his opinions. “He’s good ey? He’s fuckin’ chaaampion on the guitar an’ all!”
“Are you a musician?” I enquired, wanting to corroborate his view.
Jake closes with ‘Two Fingers,’ ‘Taste It’ and ‘Lightning Bolt’, an acoustic maelstrom of teenage angst that both the audience nor security can hardly handle. Crowd-surfing, of all things, begins. Albeit only two people, it still qualifies. Angry ‘roid-addled’ security guards start shining torches on the offenders, wildly gesturing those atop the crowd to pack it in. The last note is sounded, Bugg smiles for once and flips his plectrum nonchalantly into the youthful front rows. The Metro Theatre cruelly lights up and as quickly as he has appeared, he has gone, somewhat of an enigma. No encore. Cool.