Live Review: Jake Bugg + Blossoms – State Theatre, Sydney (26.07.16)

The weather is a little chilly and blustery, winter is still lingering but Splendour In The Grass season always brings with it a bounty of warm sideshows. Tonight’s British bout would feature young whipper snappers Blossoms opening for the eternally young looking Jake Bugg. The State Theatre was an intriguing but adequate choice of venue for the proceedings, as the sizeable but not entirely sold out crowd attested. 

Blossoms formed in 2013 and in their short lifespan to date, have already started making some noise and gaining attention. This is their debut visit to Australia on the back of the SITG festival but they come to our shores having already graced other large-scale festival stages like Reading and T In The Park. Their indie pop sound feels a little reminiscent of the Britpop era but with a surfie/hippie 60’s groove tinge.

They play a short half hour snappy set, including “Charlemagne” with its boppy poppy bass that’s peppered by snappy cymbals, or the slow paced pining acoustic ballad of “Without You”. For a young band, they play with a relaxed ease and confidence, clearly focusing on their songs and the music than being overt showmen onstage. Bass player Charlie Salt’s higher range vocals marry nicely with lead singer Tom Ogden’s, whilst Myles Kellock’s synth grooves give everything a nice mellow type of feel. They’re solid performers but compared to the headliner, some of the music did feel a little monotone in pace.

Jake Bugg might look like he’s about 15 years old but make no mistake, this 22 year old is practically a veteran on the stage. This is Bugg’s third time out to Australia, having only just last year popped out as part of the Gentlemen Of The Road tour with Mumford and Sons. Bugg returns again for SITG and manages to add in a couple of his own headline sideshows to boot, promoting his latest record On My One, which just so happens to be his opening track.

Vocally, Bugg sounds like he’s taken a leaf out of Bob Dylan’s book but musically, his guitar performance is more like some of his cited influences like Cash and Hendrix. “Two Fingers” is his second track which immediately gets a raucous cheer and sing-a-long from the crowd. Bugg’s sound and style is a fascinating mix of country twang with alternative rock, it’s particularly noticeable on tracks like “Beast” or “Livin’ Up Country” where the occasional blistering guitar solo erupts. But then he backs those up with the more bluesy or ballad-esque tracks like “Love, Hope and Misery” or strumming on his acoustic during “Me And You”. 

Before he plays “Bitter Salt”, Bugg makes an apologetic quip about having to play new songs that the crowd probably don’t want to hear, but it’s a #sorrynotsorry kind of thing since clearly he’s out to promote his new wares. The crowd didn’t seem to mind anyway and as it turned out, we were regaled with “Seen It All” or “Slumville Sunrise” or “Taste It” or Trouble Town”, so there were plenty of hits littered throughout his hour and a half long set.

Bugg is not much for onstage banter; you can see his awkward shyness come through when random audience members yell out things and he tries to acknowledge them but quickly press on with the job at hand. The advantage of this is we have a show where the focus is on the music, so we get a couple more songs squeezed into the set. Less talking by our onstage performer means more time for a song, of course. The disadvantage is dealing with crowd talkers who for some reason think it’s okay to continue their conversations during the slow quiet moments. If you feel compelled to keep talking to your mates, can you please at least turn the volume down a bit? Or move up to the back of the room? Even though the State Theatre is a seated venue, plenty of punters decided to cram the aisles on the side of the venue so they could dance (and apparently have loud conversations). 

Tonight though, Bugg’s vocals sound a lot warmer and smoother than previous times I’ve seen him live. It’s possible that the Fuji Rock show he played before landing in Australia helped warm him up. Or maybe he’s starting to mature vocally with age and time. But overall, Bugg’s surety in his onstage performance, his concentration and confidence is evident. There’s no sign of hesitation as he backs up song after song.

It’s only as we near the second last song, that he makes a comment about how lovely the room is and if he had known beforehand, he would’ve played a couple more acoustic tracks. This of course resulted in a number of people yelling out for “Broken”. Bugg awkwardly mumbles about needing some help remembering the lines, and an acoustic guitar is brought out for him and he proceeds into the track. There’s no encore tonight, so he launches straight into his set closer, the fiery “Lightning Bolt”, which has the audience on its feet and hopping.