Show review: Billy Bragg at the Cedar

by Mark Brenden

Alongside Wilco, he is the heir of Woody Guthrie’s lost lyrics. He has played heaps of workingman benefit shows throughout his three-decade career. His fans attend his shows as much for his erudite Socialist rants as for his folk ditties. His latest project was providing music for "Pressure Drop," a British play about a family swallowed by the fangs of Capitalism.

            If Billy Bragg says he’s a Union man, I think you’ll agree.

            And — lucky us — he chose our quaint metropolis as the place to hang his hat on Labor Day week, performing an intimate man-and-guitar set at Cedar Cultural Center last night.  The set was interactive and colloquial, with Bragg talking with — not at — the audience and often stopping in the middle of a song to daintily ask, "What do you mates think of that line? I’m not quite sure of it."

            The music fit snugly into the Cedar’s swanky ambiance, but it was Bragg’s political homilies that validated the price of admission. There were Clash covers, old Union songs, Bragg staples and a couple Guthrie collaborations. But it was his British charisma that wooed us. He was full of jokes and rants — mocking everything from the 2nd Amendment to American football ("Why don’t they just stuff ’em in a canon and fire ’em at each other?") After virtually every song he would embark on a humorous anecdote and arrive at an impassioned diatribe against the Tea Party Movement (Glenn Beck was unsurprisingly the night’s hot topic).

            When it comes down to it, Bragg is speaking to the choir. A Tea Partyer is as likely to show up at a Bragg show as a progressive is at a Beck Rally.  Nevertheless, his conviction is clearly bona fide; and his aura of optimism is a well-received reminder that this land is still yours and mine.