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I could listen to Billy Bragg sing and talk all night (What, you can’t?). He and his very professional band are an excellent combo, and when you include his old and new songs, you’ve got a heady mixture. 1986’s “Ideology” opened the show and next was the first newbie, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore”, maybe my favorite from his just-released Tooth & Nail. And in its simplicity, it’s quite a radical song as we’re told that experts may not be very expert at all. The line “Let’s stop pretending we can manage our way out of here” can be interpreted in so many ways, be you righty or lefty. Billy is Mr. Inclusive! Further proof: his remark that his music appeals to those who know both Nick Cave and Burl Ives. (His audience demographics seem to lack Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, however. Someone call marketing, or his manager Peter Jenner.)
L-R: Owen Parker, CJ Hillman, Billy Bragg, Luke Bullen & Matt Round
There was a “smooth sailing” aspect to most of the songs, but when Billy was alone, I felt more electricity. And look, his voice cracked in “Milkman of Human Kindness”. And I was almost (as usual) moved to tears for “Between the Wars”. It was prefaced by Billy telling us of how he learned of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Very funny, but, cheering and fist-pumping at this news is the easy reaction. Surely we are not devolved! We are progressive people. And isn’t Billy supposed to be Mr. Compassion? Why isn’t he being compassionate now? Can we infer that some people do not deserve compassion? Must I paint you a picture? Let’s say Thatcher was tried for heinous crimes against the state. And found guilty? And given the death sentence? Would we cheer then? Well, maybe we would, for she committed all her crimes while the world watched and took notes; this is textbook justice. It’s not like a murderer who acts alone. Should he be found guilty, no death penalty should be allowed because just maybe possibly what if’ly he didn’t do it?* I guess it’s safe to assume that Thatcher’s family cried upon her death. And nosy me wanted to see if Billy had any tears when he finished “Tank Park Salute” (1991, about his father who died), accompanied by Owen Parker on keyboards. My monocular couldn’t discern such but I can say that I was very touched by the song.
* Along with the standard arguments of race. Oh look, demographics again.
Let’s end on a funny note. And with Billy Bragg, there’s always quite a few. Like, he mentioned the presence of beards at SXSW. Or how about the one involving Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who changed his stance to pro-gay marriage based on his son being gay (Ooh, very good punchline here. Don’t ask and I won’t tell.). He told us of a different reality with Woody Guthrie playing a coveted electric Les Paul guitar while Margaret Thatcher flaunts herself on a beach with Frankie Avalon (FYI, Annette Funicello died 7 days before TINA. Why am I calling Thatcher by that name?). Maybe such would’ve help save the future of America. Which would mean present America is in a good state (comprende?). And, the last song of the night was a highly-charged “Help Save the Youth of America” (look, some people got off their seats). Compadres Jack Rabid, Mark Suppanz, and I then waited with the masses for about 30, 40 minutes, to have items signed and to chat with Billy. He laughed at the coffee sleeve I made for him, what a sport. (We also gave a quick thumbs up to lap steel player CJ Hillman, who is in NYC for the first time, as he passed us in line. And the other two handsome band members were Luke Bullen on drums and Matt Round on bass.)
(Photos courtesy Mark Suppanz)
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