While one might assume that a late-afternoon slot at the ACL Festival would be daunting for a teenager, Jake Bugg has seen it all before. The 19-year-old Brit played Glastonbury's main stage earlier this year, drawing a crowd so large that The Guardian mock-tweeted "Have the Stones come on early?" Bugg has opened for Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses at stadiums and arenas around the world, and British prime minister David Cameron added his music to an MP3 mix given to Barack Obama at this summer's G8 summit.
So for Bugg, Friday's set was a walk in the park. His no-nonsense air pervaded his performance, which stomped through music that recalled everything from rockabilly to the 70s folk of John Denver and Don McLean (albeit a bit rawer).
Bugg has a talent for direct but evocative lyrics and an inherent tunefulness that doesn't come along often.
Working within a simple three-piece setup, Bugg and his band and sounded a bit like an old Sun Records trio on opener "Trouble Town" — they laid down a simple but propulsive rhythm section to assist Bugg without getting in his way. One key takeaway from Bugg's set was that he's not reinventing anything sonically but is writing words and music that feel instantly familiar. He has a talent for direct but evocative lyrics and an inherent tunefulness that doesn't come along often.
His song "I've Seen It All" put the crowd in his pocket immediately: it wasn't a hit, but it sure feels like one, a fact to which almost two million YouTube viewers can attest. Equally good was Bugg's more plaintive ballad "Simple As This," which pairs youthful lyrics about drugs and alcohol being inferior to the high of true love with yearning vocals that likely caused a swoon or three for the younger part of the audience. The singer-songwriter also rocked out a bit on "Ballad of Mr. Jones," the set's noisiest moment.
You can see who you want to in this kid. The Austin audience can connect with his love and appreciation of classic singer-songwriters, while the British kids who took his album to No. 1 are likely more enamored with lyrics like "I drink to remember, I smoke to forget" and his songs about teenaged trouble with the police. When Bugg sang those lyrics (from "Two Fingers") late in the set, they sounded like a Brit-rock football stadium anthem more than a folk tune, which may well be the case before long.