17th November 2012, Club Academy
Jake Bugg: 8/10
It’s a brave way to begin. In the basement grunge of Club Academy, low-ceilinged and close-walled, lead singer Natalie Findlay opens with a fiery a capella, her voice curling out like smoke from a cigarette. Yet, stood redundantly around her, the band looks bored. Though they are made to look plain by the grit-glitter of her performance, their blank faces still defuse the song’s power.
Findlay’s first single on release, growling rock song ‘Your Sister’, follows: the band finally ignites and properly conducts Natalie’s raging voice. The microphone, however, does not: her primal sound is shot full of silences throughout the last part of the song. Despite persistent sound jitters during two further songs, needing to switch the mic twice and, at one point, having to physically hold the equipment together, Natalie’s performance never falters. With dark hair wild about her face, mouth defined in red, Natalie finally concedes that “if this doesn’t work I’m going to burn the fucking place down” – just as the glitch is fixed.
The set thrashes on, beautifully managed precision-crashes from Findlay’s leopard-shirted drummer outshining the confident accompaniment of the bassist and baby-faced, Beiber-quiffed electric guitarist. Natalie hurls her noise from the base of her throat and, though she slows for one blue-lit, softer song, she begins to sound like an instrument breaking with its own music. Her voice croaks when she speaks, a possible explanation for why none of the songs are introduced. Considering that, save for a couple of exceptions, there is an astounding absence of Findlay tracks available anywhere online, this omission seems perverse, almost an attempt to repel potential fans. Though courageous, this is music lacking proper projection and outlet: both as a singer and brand, Natalie Findlay needs a better vehicle for her voice.
Jake Bugg’s music has been loaded with enough likenesses to bury him six feet deep. As he walks unassumingly onto the Club Academy stage, you wonder if his teenage frame can take it. He has a hangdog mouth, dozy eyes and the kind of hair that looks like it’s been blow-dried backwards. As both his openers, ‘Kentucky’ and ‘Love Me The Way You Do’, are retro echoes, it becomes hard not to start questioning how progressive this current flashback actually is for guitar music. The audience is dotted with relatively few fresh-faced undergrads, recognizable by carefully high-styled hair and some admirable but unconvinced attempts at Movember. The high average age of the crowd makes me suspicious that Bugg is simply fuelling a maudlin remorse for the sounds of yester-year.
So it is a relief that the twangy ‘Trouble Town’ which follows offers innovative aid: in aged and nasal tones, Bugg sings ‘Stuck in speed bump city / Where the only thing that’s pretty / Is the thought of getting out’, putting his reminiscent sound firmly into a modern context. This is a tricky line to tread: the self-conscious worldliness of ‘Seen It All’ and lyrics such as ‘I’m an old dog but I’ve learned some new tricks yeah’ from ‘Two Fingers’ sits a little uneasy on such a scrawny form. However, the tales Bugg tells in his lyrics go beyond the teller; the audience knows all the words. They lose themselves to the jumping chords of ‘Lightning Bolt’, chanting out above the sound on stage and breaking into sea-surging, crowd-surfing momentum. Wary of being submerged, Bugg chooses the more gently rousing rural pride of ‘Country Song’ for his encore, confirming his place as a new dog using some very old tricks.