Jake Bugg has no business singing the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues.”
The 18-year-old from Nottingham, England, looks about as likely to shoot a man in Reno “just to watch him die” as Taylor Swift. Actually, even less so – especially last night, with Bugg dressed in his Fred Perry track suit top, looking slightly nervous at the sold-out Bowery Ballroom for his first American performance with a full band.
Thing is, he pulled it off. There's something about Bugg's confidence and, more importantly, his warm, well-worn voice that make him believable, whether he's channeling Cash or, as in his song “Slide,” a young Liam Gallagher.
Bugg sometimes sounds like a whole slew of greats, but pool them all together – Cash, the Gallaghers, Bob Dylan, Arctic Monkeys – and you get something truly unique. It's no wonder England has gone bonkers for the guy and that Mercury Records is hoping America will do the same when his debut arrives here later this year.
His first single “Two Fingers” is already catching on, crossing a bit of Jack White with Donovan for a different kind of protest song. He was actually more effective when he sped things up during his 50-minute set, like on the Dylanesque romp “Taste It,” though the emotional catches in his voice when he stretches on the pretty ballad “Broken” work pretty well too.
Will people buy an 18-year-old singing, “I've seen it all, nothing shocks me any more”? Bugg is sure going to give it a try.
SETLIST: Fire / Love Me the Way You Do / Trouble Town / Seen It All / Ballad of Mr. Jones / Someone Told Me / Country Song / Simple as This / Slide / Two Fingers / Taste It / Lightning Bolt // ENCORE: Broken / Folsom Prison Blues
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