Jake Bugg in Oxford: A bad review of an okay show

by Anonymous | June 12, 2024

Image courtesy of ©Kevin Westenberg 


It’s about 10.15pm, and Jake Bugg is about three-quarters of the way through his setlist. He swaps out one of his many electric guitars (needlessly many for a series of songs with the same tunings and same guitar tones) for an acoustic. It’s that moment in the night where the tipsy ‘6 Music Dads’ are in their feels, swaying from side to side with their arms around one another. Broken is the song that Bugg plays. Probably the best song of the evening, it’s a suitable moody sad love song that gets the lighters and phone light out. It’s certainly the only one of Bugg’s songs I found myself actively wanting to seek out after the gig.


If that sounds a little dismissive, I didn’t find myself blown away by the music, but I most definitely didn’t dislike it. The tour has a noble raison d’être—Bugg’s press release focused on “Jake’s [aim] to bring live music back to the heart of the country’s smaller communities”. This is indisputably something Bugg has committed himself to. Across all fifteen dates of his Your Town Tour, its absences are perhaps most conspicuous. Despite stopping off in Frome, Torquay, and Galway, heavy hitters like London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, and Dublin are all missed out. In fact, none of the UK and Ireland’s 10 largest cities are on the schedule, and Oxford is actually one of the larger cities he’s playing in. Even if it’s somewhat questionable how much of a grassroots, local venue the O2 qualifies as, Oxford is so starved for independent venues of any size that I reserve judgement.


After the Music Venue Trust confirmed in January that two grassroots venues close in the UK per week and that 2023 was the worst year on record for venue closures, these kinds of gigs, music notwithstanding, are increasingly important. Despite skyrocketing ticket prices for major events and increasing demand for spaces like these, grassroots music venues are struggling. Last year, they averaged a negligible profit margin of 0.5%, and a third are operating at a loss. Jake Bugg, a musician with over 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify, could easily fill a venue bigger than Frome’s Cheese & Grain (no offence to them, I’m sure it’s a wonderful space). Obviously, one man and his guitar are not going to be able to fix such an entrenched problem, but it’s certainly the right thing for somebody like him to be doing, and a step that not many are willing to make.


I first heard Jake Bugg a number of years ago doing Oasis’ ‘Slide Away’, a cover that turned out to be quite divisive amongst die-hard Oasis fans. Bugg’s reedy voice and twangy guitar sounded closer to John Denver or Woody Guthrie’s gentle Americana than Liam Gallagher’s snarl. Clearly Gallagher was a fan, since Bugg opened for him and John Squire on their UK and Ireland tour in March this year, before kicking off his own solo tour. In a formula that seems to be of increasing popularity for singer-songwriters with a mixture of moody acoustic music and more upbeat bops, Bugg performs as his own opening artist (sans the extended band). It actually works quite well—he has a very bluesy, country sound and an ambiguous singing accent to boot. You wouldn’t know he’s English at all from the set. It’s quite a low-key, chilled out first half. The songs are good, but not exceptional, and I was finding myself distracted by the slightly more interesting music history facts plastered on the venue’s walls. The second half certainly picked up the energy. Now accompanied by a full band, Bugg turns up the volume and gets the crowd bouncing. This second ‘half’, which runs nearly twice the length of the first, is where we get most of his hits: ‘Lightning Bolt’, ‘Two Fingers’, ‘Seen It All’. It still has something of a country twang to it, a lot of root-fifth bass stuff in a very Johnny Cash-esque manner.


I can’t say it made me clamour to hear more Jake Bugg music, or wish that I had known all the words before I came in. But what can I say? The place looked sold out and his fans knew all the words—what else, at this level, could he ask for?  I have seen gigs that are magnitudes worse, and Bugg is doing the entire British and Irish music scene a massive favour by doing these kinds of shows. It goes without saying that the venues he’s playing need this kind of music pumping through their speakers to keep their lights on. As he finishes his first set, ending with a characteristically gentle folk tune about simple living (‘Simple As This’), a man about 20 years Bugg’s senior (as is most of the crowd) slaps his friend on the back before exclaiming “what a fucking bloke” whilst gesturing to the singer. Far be it from me to too harshly criticise someone who is clearly doing not only something good, but something right.


Image courtesy of John Anderson.


So I refuse to really give an opinion, have spun essentially ‘it’s okay’ into 500 or so words, and, beyond a couple of statistics about local music venue closures, from this article, you will have learned nothing. This, if you are still reading (which you are), begs the question ‘why are you writing this?’ Because I have to. Because Jake Bugg’s people gave me and a friend a free ticket, and so, resultantly, somebody from the Isis is obliged to go and write something up about it. The preceding four paragraphs, in spite of my best efforts, is all I can say about Jake Bugg’s Oxford gig. It was good. It was fun. If I knew all the songs I would have loved it even more (obviously). But writing more than one sentence about any old gig in Oxford is like draining blood from a stone.


This then begs another question: why are you still reading, why are you still here? Go read something else. Go smoke a joint or go to the beach or climb a tree or write a symphony or make pancakes or drink water or eat your five-a-day or go clay pigeon shooting or meditate or watch an old Dogme film or drive in circles or play croquet or have a power nap or assemble flatpack furniture or carve out a career as a niche battle rapper or go to a meet-and-greet or do a million star jumps or scream at the top of your lungs or grow your hair or just sit doing nothing, nothing but ageing on the slow but indefatigable march towards death. Just stop reading—it’s hardly worth me writing.


To reiterate: none of this is to criticise Jake Bugg at all. His gig was actually very good and those who paid money to see him plainly thoroughly enjoyed it. But has anybody ever read a concert review that they gave a shit about? Unless you are the performer, why would you care? It’s like hearing somebody talk about their dreams. I’m sure they were delightful and psychedelic and just so interesting, but I didn’t have the dream, so politely: FUCK OFF! It’s just a gig. Laibach performing sludgy, industrial metal music in North Korea: that’s a gig worth writing about. The riotous debut performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: that’s worth an article. Most gigs are just not worth the words assigned to them. I hope I’ve hit a word count acceptable for a nice Oxford concert review. ∎




Image courtesy of Kevin Westenberg and John Anderson.