Billy Bragg | 09.22.13

Billy-Bragg 75From top to bottom, outstanding.

Billy-Bragg 500

Old Rock House, St Louis

I had the good fortune of seeing Billy Bragg in April when he did three nights at City Winery in Chicago. At the time, it was a bucket list show for me as he hadn’t done a solo show here in St. Louis in the entire time I’ve lived here that I could remember anyway. So, I went, and it was a damn great show. However, that experience cannot come close to the experience here in my adopted hometown. His set, heavy on songs from the Tooth & Nail and Mermaide Avenue albums, did incorporate a decent amount of his classic gems including several off of Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy do to its upcoming 30th Anniversary re-release. This may go down as my show of the year. From top to bottom, outstanding.

Rewind a bit to 1:30 p.m. Bragg played a lovely, 30-minute in-store set at Vintage Vinyl. As always, he was full of charm and wit, telling little anecdotes with every song he chose. He made reference to Americana for people who liked country music and The Smiths. He made reference to the latter in the evening as well. He kicked things off with a slower tempo, acoustic version of “Sexuality”, which was great. He immediately went into songs from Tooth & Nail and Woody Guthrie. Due to many people bringing their kids, he decided to play one of Guthrie’s more colorful kids’ songs “Dry Bed” and encouraged the crowd to sing along. He told a story about when, in the Red Wedge days in the 1980s, Paul Weller and himself stayed at Morissey’s place, and his particular bed had a plastic mattress sheet on it. He was wondering if Moz was trying to tell him something, which got a good round of laughs from the crowd. He also jokingly acknowledged a few hecklers, as he’d never been to an in-store where they gave out free beer (Vintage Vinyl was giving out cans of various Schlafly beers), and they might be the reason why it doesn’t happen.

The main show was listed as being sold out, which is great. Hopefully this shows St. Louis is a worthy place to add as a stop so we all do not have to trek to Chicago to see him. Joe Purdy opened things up promptly at 8 p.m. His music is sparse and haunting. It’s best described as bluegrassy folk about lost love, family, and growing old, and it’s sad, drink-yourself-into-oblivion music. He has a very dry sense of humor. At one point, he shouted at someone in the audience to shut up, but it turned out to be a brilliant part of his song.

Bragg’s set was a stellar mix of older songs as well as a good bit of Tooth & Nail and Mermaid Avenue. Bragg’s voice was in top form all night, his guitar playing determined and strong. He was incredibly enthusiastic and full of great anecdotes to transition between songs. He was having a good time on stage and that always makes shows even better. He made a few quips about Morrisey again, as he did in Chicago in April. Morrisey jokes are always good for a laugh. He used his usual points of anti-fascism (and his love of Woody Guthrie), workers’ rights, sexual rights, Margaret Thatcher, and other fascists like sacked Sunderland football manager Paolo Di Canio before ripping into songs like “All You Fascists”. He even told his story about being in Calgary dealing with the media and his own elation upon hearing the news of Thatcher’s death. He also defended his recent editorial for The Guardian where he discussed Americana and English musicians being the first real practitioners of it. He was most passionate when talking about equal marriage rights and how we still haven’t gotten in right here in the U.S. as opposed to England and in the rest of the work all to set up his 1991 hit “Sexuality”. There were a lot of vocal supporters in the audience for his leftist beliefs, myself being one of them. I said this in my review for the Chicago show; his backing band, The Blokes, are an outstanding bunch of musicians, and he was very gracious towards them. Overall, an excellent show, and one that I shall remember for a long, long time. | Mike Koehler

Vintage Vinyl Set List

Sexuality

No One Knows Nothing Anymore

Handyman Blues

I Ain’t Got No Home

Dry Bed (Woody Guthrie children’s song)

A New England

Main Set

Ideology

No One Knows Nothing Anymore

Way Over in the Minor Key

Chasing Rainbows

All You Fascists

I Ain’t Got No Home

You Woke Up My Neighborhood

Milkman Of Human Kindness

To Have and Have Not

There is Power in a Union

Goodbye Friends

Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones cover)

Over You

Sexuality

Reckoning

A New England

Encore:

Handyman Blues

(Cannot remember song, I’m having a senior moment!)

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

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