Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Concert Review: Billy Bragg - 10.27.08 at the 9:30 Club

As anyone who reads this blog regularly can see, I've been to a lot of shows lately. I love music more than anything, but going to shows so frequently was getting sort of tiresome. So, naturally, I wasn't extremely pumped to go see Billy Bragg, an artist I respect greatly but have never become a huge fan of, on a cold and rainy Monday night.

I was stupid to think that. This was one of my favorite shows I've seen this year, and I've seen quite a few. Billy Bragg was an absolute delight.

To call this a concert might not even do the events of last night full justice. He was on stage for about two hours, but a large portion of that time was more like a lefty voter rally and a stand-up comedy routine. For those who don't know, Billy Bragg is extremely political. I believe he's an outright socialist. It was not at all lost on him that he was in the nation's capital a week before the biggest election in recent American history. He ranted about the upcoming end of "American exceptionalism" and the need for universal healthcare. He also praised America for nominating a black man as a major party Presidential candidate. He kidded about the confusing nature of our red/blue political party designations, since liberals are red and conservatives blue everywhere else in the world. His stories covered subjects as wide-ranging as attending an anti-racism Clash concert when he was 19 and the haircut he got in Ithaca, NY on his current tour. He has a great sense of humor, and is very good at articulating his beliefs about politics and society.

But, even though his stories and rants were highly entertaining, his songs were better. I've never seen the stage of the 9:30 club so empty. It was just Billy Bragg, his guitar, his mic stand, two amps, and a coffee table with his lemon echinacea tea. No support band, no lights show, just Billy Bragg playing and singing his heart out on a Monday night. And it was great. He is getting on in years, for sure, but he has not lost any of his energy on stage, and he's still very good vocally. He surprised me with how well he can sing.

He opened the show with "Help Save the Youth of America," which fit in nicely with the political themes of the show. He mixed in old classics, new numbers, and covers, and even though I'm not that familiar with his catalogue, every song was performed in his unmistakable, passionate style. He played mostly electric, but mixed in some acoustic midway through the set. He had some hilarious banter with the crowd as well.

For the encore, he brought on the Watson Twins (the opener, also known for having recorded and toured with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) to provide some beautiful harmony for the first number. Then he played "A New England" to close out the show with the entire audience singing the chorus.

I'm so happy to have seen this show. It was such a pleasant atmosphere, especially after the gang of Republicans near us left in disgust, apparently having shown up not realizing Billy Bragg is about as lefty and political as musical artists get. "He's a Socialist! What did you expect?!" taunted the girl next to us. Ah yes, the perfect preamble to one of the most politically important weeks of my lifetime.

1 comment:

Edward said...

Anyone who can write the line "I'm celebrating my love for you with a pint of beer and a new tattoo" needs to be taken seriously.
Also, he gave a wonderful dedication to Levi Stubbs and got me listening to the Four Tops the rest of the week.