So last night we went and saw Billy Bragg at the Auckland Town Hall. Billy is one of those artists who I have always loved, but never managed to see live with one thing and another. I was notoriously bad at getting to see musicians in my 20's and early 30's and of course living in NZ, some just never made it here. Billy has been here a few times, and I am now wondering why I NEVER saw him before. Billy Bragg came to prominence as the lone electric guitar playing singer, who had the ability to touch us with his mix of sharp, politically motivated songs, or tender love songs. Levi's Stubbs Tears is probably his best known song from this period. Sexuality, was a another huge hit. His later career has involved various collaborations and larger band sets, as well as the occasional return to his "prime operating mode".
Last night's concert saw Billy in his lone man mode, presenting from a seated position a set of Woody Guthrie songs which he had been asked to interpret by Woody's daughter Nora Guthrie and led to the Mermaid Avenue series with Wilco. The collection presented was a lovely example of both Woody's wonderful lyrics and Billy's ability to put startling lyrics to simple but wonderful tunes. Billy's style of guitar playing suits these songs very well. What hit me in this set was also Billy's ability to talk to the audience and tell a damn good story. I don't think I have ever been to concert that contained so much audience chat. It was also good chat. Never once did I find myself thinking, "just sing a song". In fact, I could have listened to him for many hours more.
The second set, was pure Billy Bragg. Standing at the microphone with his guitar. Raw energy, tenderness, humour and just a touch of political message :-). Ok, a lot from time to time. Yet, also, he repeated several times that life isn't all politics and he knows people love his ballads. Billy reminded us why he is the legend he is and why he can count himself among those who still carried the mantle of singer songwriter and political activist. Levi's Stubbs Tears was just as I imagined, Sexuality was great, New England was a crowd pleaser.
I am so glad I chose to go to this concert and can say I have seen Billy Bragg as nature intended. Alone with a guitar in his hand, reminding us that anyone can and should give a shit, care, and make a difference, everyday, where we can. Billy gets 5/5 from me for a bloody brilliant concert!