Billy Bragg | 04.12.13

bragg13 75He was extremely funny and full of pride (and made several jokes about Canada and Morrissey).

 

City Winery Chicago

As I have been a Billy Bragg fan for quite some time and had the misfortune of never seeing him live, his two-plus-hour set was a dream come true. The show was a stellar mix of older songs, as well as a good bit of his new album, Tooth & Nail, all with his full band, a talented batch of young musicians. Bragg’s voice was in top form all night; he sounded strong and his enthusiasm was abundant. I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever about his set of songs (except no “Accident Waitin’ to Happen”), but that is a trivial complaint on my part. Overall, an outstanding show based on these things alone.Bragg Kohler

This story doesn’t end there, however. City Winery was an interesting choice of venues for Bragg, very much an upscale venue, which seems a bit of an odd choice for an artist who has for years been a man for the working class. The crowd skewed a bit older as one would expect for an artist who has been around for 30 years. Many there were fans of Bragg’s and were age-appropriate; however, there were quite a few who were much older and were most likely there for dinner and wine. The way the tables are set up around the venue was almost like a dinner theater. Be warned if you go there: The food and drinks are not cheap. However, the sound at City Winery was outstanding: crisp, clear, and very appropriate for the size and the type of show. Overall, a comfortable room, if a bit sterile. It wouldn’t be a place to see a punk or metal show.

What made this show so special was Bragg himself. As mentioned before, his voice was in outstanding form, and his guitar playing was excellent, as well, regardless if he was acoustic or plugged in. However, it was his conversation that will stick with me—easily the best banter I’ve heard at any concert. He was extremely funny and full of pride (and made several jokes about Canada and Morrissey). I learned from talking to other attendees that this storytelling was not typical; normally, they said, he just rips through songs at a breakneck pace.

Tonight, he was using his chatter to get his point across, and also as a way to set up his next song. He touched upon his usual points of anti-fascism (and his love of Woody Guthrie), workers’ rights, sexual rights, Margaret Thatcher, and other fascist groups, like the British National Party. He didn’t want people cheering for Maggie’s death, but wanted to rally people to bring down the policies she and others like her have instituted. The most poignant part was when he spoke about equal marriage rights, all to set up his seminal hit “Sexuality.” Several times through the night, his speeches earned enthusiastic ovations.

Bragg is humble, a very gracious artist. He took the time to wait out in the lobby and meet fans and take pictures if they wanted (oh yes, I did). In meeting him, one got the sense that he really is genuine in what he says on stage. I was able to briefly discuss with him a friend of mine who has meet him several times over the past year at various Woody Guthrie tributes, and he gleefully remembered her and was anxious to see her book. To me, that showed an artist who truly cares for his fans. Overall, one of the best concert experiences I’ve had. | Michael Koehler

Photo: Mr. Koehler and Mr. Bragg – courtesy of Michael Koehler

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