The Atlantic Ocean might as well be considered the great divide. Very seldom does an artist on either shore embody the gravitas or songwriting chops needed to bridge the gap of crossover appeal on both sides of the pond. Only a select club of legendary sojourners have championed such success — and even less have maintained it.
Jake Bugg, at the ripe unapologetic age of 19, is threatening to do so. With a clever knack for crisp melodies, bold delivery and rare stage moxie for his age, the Nottingham, England teen is a blessed marvel. With a fine blend of Donovan-inspired tricks and the upstart spirit of a rockabilly hellion, Bugg is also a transformative figure. He looks young, but sounds old. “Seen It All” off Bugg’s 2012 self-titled release is a good example.
To a malleable audience on Monday night at the always lively Ogden Theatere, Bugg performed the song in a way that sounded vaguely familiar while at the same time fresh and innovative. “Simple As This” and “Country Song” both covered similar terrain with their Don McLean-styled groundwork and classic folk-roasted chirp. “Song About Love,” in contrast, was a deep swooning new song from Bugg’s forthcoming “Shangri La” that echoed the Verve and unleashed Bugg’s outstanding vocal range. “Two Fingers,” Bugg’s runaway hit, was played quick and feisty like a pressure valve gone wild.
Strolling back on stage for the encore minus his rhythm section, Bugg performed “Broken” to a hushed crowd following his every angled nuance in careful critique. Despite its doleful mood and somber lyrics, the song was an engulfing knockout that bottled way more wisdom than seems normal for a 19-year-old. Bugg ended the show with a cover of Neil Young’s rock epic “Hey Hey My My” and the breakneck ditty “Lightning Bolt.” Consider this pond hopped.
Kris K. Coe is a freelance writer, Denver-native and regular contributor to Reverb.