U.K. superstar Jake Bugg played in northeast Portland’s landmark Wonder Ballroom Saturday night before a packed house of delighted concertgoers with a setlist and show most won’t soon forget.

Opening on the smooth, sweet notes of “Fire” – a song he originally recorded on his iPhone and which Mercury Records snatched up to become the final track on his debut CD – Bugg then launched into “Trouble Town,” and from there it was clear the 19-year-old from Nottingham had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand.

You know those concerts where the audience is noisy during every song and it’s hard to hear the words? This wasn’t one of those. Instead, the crowd whooped and hollered after each selection but quickly dropped back to a quiet  “you-can-almost-hear-a-pin-drop” demeanor, attentively and respectfully anticipating each song.

The evening’s setlist included the rowdy “Seen it All,” the contemplative “Simple as This,” the victorious “Two Fingers” and an impressively rousing rendition of “Taste It” that floored the place.

It’s a curious thing how sometimes the studio version of a song doesn’t draw you in nearly as much as hearing it performed live. Such was the case with the song “Someplace” from the debut release. Bugg quietly introduced it as “one of the oldest songs I have,” then took the audience to places that were filled with longing, regret, depth and beauty.  Those present probably won’t be listening to that song in quite the same way again.

Acoustic – and electric – thrills

Accompanied by only a bass player and his very talented drummer, Bugg switched off throughout the evening between acoustic and electric guitars. It’s hard to say which format enthralled his audience more: the richness of his acoustic guitar style accompanied with those booming, heartfelt vocals, or his creative, dexterous electric guitar jams delivered with such casual finesse.

Some good news on the horizon for fans: Bugg recently finished recording his second release, “Shangri-la,” due out in November. He included several songs from it – the endearing “Me and You” and “Slumville Sunrise,” a hard-boiled rocker with some great guitar riffs – in the evening’s repertoire. Both songs were exceedingly well-received.

After all of that, Bugg’s encore was nothing short of stunning. Coming back onstage with only his acoustic guitar he proceeded to belt out a pitch-perfect, utterly moving performance of “Broken.” Then came a dynamite cover of Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey, My, My,” after which he and his band closed out the night’s show with an extended version of his current hit single about success and taking chances, his signature “Lightning Bolt.”

Originally scheduled for the Doug Fir Lounge, the concert was moved to the Wonder Ballroom to meet the demand for tickets. It’s a cinch when next he returns to the Pacific Northwest he’ll be playing in far larger venues.

Jake Bugg at the Wonder Ballroom.

Jake Bugg at the Wonder Ballroom. Photo by Cynthia Orlando.

All this and honeyhoney, too

Almost equally impressive at Saturday night’s show were Los Angeles-based honeyhoney. They opened the evening with an outstanding and memorable Indie-folk setlist of their own, showcasing remarkable musicianship and exuding great energy.

When all was said and done they brought down the house with a spot-on performance – no wonder they have such a huge following on Twitter.

To sum up: At $15 a head, the double-billing of Jake Bugg with honeyhoney was probably some of the best-spent money ever for those at the Wonder Ballroom Saturday night. More than satisfying, it was a night none will soon forget.

You can check out Jake Bugg’s music on his website, on iTunes or on Amazon.

Explore the music of honeyhoney on iTunes.

Cynthia Orlando
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