IoS pop review: Jake Bugg, Koko, London
Bellowhead, Dome, Brighton
Some are born great, and some put an album out too soon
Sunday 18 November 2012
There's a great moment in the comedy The Man with Two Brains in which Steve Martin asks his dead wife to give him a sign if she approves of his moving on to a new relationship. Immediately, the house shakes, a gale blows, the lights flicker, vases smash, and a ghostly voice screams "Nooo!!!" When the tumult subsides, Martin repeats: "Just any kind of sign. I'll keep on the lookout for it."
You don't need to be super-vigilant to detect the warning signs as you enter a Jake Bugg concert. The warm-up mix includes Oasis, the Roses and the Arctics. And the crowd is dominated by Weller fans at least twice the age of the singer. You know your face will not exactly be contorted by the G-force of being thrust into some uncharted future. And yet, there's still some margin for shock when you discover that Jake Bugg, with his bluegrass/skiffle stylings, makes Seasick Steve sound like Deadmau5.
The idea of "promise" and "potential" is nonsense. You're either great or you ain't. And if you ain't great yet, come back to me when you are. Much has been made of the fact that baby-faced Bugg is 18 years old. But if we're applauding Bugg for being able to hold his big beige acoustic guitar the right way round, then we're already halfway to throwing a dog a Bonio for being able to walk on two legs. So who bought Bugg's debut album – Jake Bugg – that went to No 1? The ageing Weller fans around me? Right now, standing among my own generation, it's hard to see much difference between Bugg's dad-pleasing shtick and BGT's Shaheen Jafargholi or Faryl Smith.
He starts, as he starts every night, with "Kentucky", adopting a fake hillbilly accent to sing about "railroad tracks". Jake Bugg is from Nottingham. He should be singing about getting the tram to the Goose Fair.
Musically you can see what we're meant to think: Cash circa "I Walk the Line", Presley circa "Mystery Train". On ballads such as "Slide", however, Bugg's more akin to Richard Ashcroft or, heaven help us, Starsailor. If I was this boring at 18, I think I'd slink down to the basement with a revolver to spare future generations.
One can't justify Bellowhead on any kind of futuristic gauge either, but at least you know you're alive when you listen to them. For someone with an inbuilt resistance to folk-rock, this unwieldy collective built around concertina-toting John Spiers and singer/guitarist/fiddler/stamper Jon Boden was never going to be an easy sell, but having somehow avoided their four-album oeuvre till this week, I'm won over.
This is drinking music, knees up and elbows out, with a nautical bent. Despite the folksy trappings – tuba, cello, banjo, mandolin, clarinet and gong – Bellowhead are not always what they appear. "What Is the Life of a Man?" has a dark, dramatic attack which has me thinking of These New Puritans. Similarly, "Little Sally Racket", an adaptation of the filthy standard "Haul 'Er Away", is a piece of thumping atonal bebop that reminds me of Zappa and Beefheart.
Bellowhead are, to put it simply and crassly, the anti-Mumfords. And for that alone they deserve a 21-gun salute. Come to think of it, they've probably got the cannons out back.
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