“Forgive me for going on a bit,” Billy Bragg said, near the end of his concert Friday (Sept. 10) at Dominican University in west suburban River Forest. He had, in fact, gone on a bit. Bragg talked to his audience considerably more than most musicians do. And, yeah, it would’ve been nice to hear maybe another song or two in place of some of those spoken words. But then, it wouldn’t have been a real Billy Bragg performance. Bragg likes to talk. And for the most part, I think Bragg’s fans wanted to hear what he had to say.
Not surprisingly, Bragg — who makes no secret of the fact that he’s a socialist — had some cutting things to say about the current state of American politics. Sipping from a mug of hot tea in between songs, Bragg quipped, “I am simply drinking tea. It is a beverage issue and not a political issue.”
During a monologue about the economic downturn and the government’s response, Bragg said, “A country where the markets make policy is not a democracy.” But he emphasized optimism and working for change over being cynical. “Cynicism is our greatest enemy,” he remarked, later adding: “Woody Guthrie never wrote a cynical song in his life.” Bragg urged his fans to work at persuading other people to take a more progressive, enlightened political outlook. “Only the audience can change the world,” he said.
Oh, and what about the music? Bragg played alone, using an electric guitar for much of the show and an acoustic guitar for several songs — sounding relaxed as he sang many of his most popular tunes in a strong, confident voice. He injected humorous touches in some of the songs, like a White Stripes riff. The Woody Guthrie songs (including two from “Mermaid Avenue”) were wonderful, and “Everywhere” was somber and moving. The encore felt festive, ending with the crowd singing the chorus of “New England.” And then Bragg spent a good amount of time talking with fans and posing for pictures at the merch table.
SET LIST: “To Have and To Not Have” / “The Price I Pay” / “Greetings to the New Brunette (Shirley)” / “Tomorrow” (new song from “Pressure Drop” play) / “I Ain’t Got No Home” (Woody Guthrie cover) / “Sexuality” / “Everywhere” / “The Unwelcome Guest” / “Ingrid Bergman” / “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key” / “The Fourteenth of February” / “There Will Be a Reckoning” (new song from “Pressure Drop” play) / “No Power Without Accountability” / “The Milkman of Human Kindness” / “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” / “I Keep Faith” / ENCORE: “Tank Park Salute” / “The Saturday Boy” / “New England”
Read my interview with Billy Bragg in Pioneer Press. Billy Bragg’s website: www.billybragg.co.uk
The opening act was Australian singer-songwriter Darren Hanlon, whose music was new to me until I checked out his myspace page last week. I’m quickly becoming a big fan — his folk-rock songs were melodic and often quite humorous, and he was a perfect match with Bragg. www.darrenhanlon.com http://www.myspace.com/darrenhanlon