Music Review: Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg. Picture: Anthony Tran

CONCERT: BILLY BRAGG
Astor Theatre
Friday, November 2
REVIEW: HARVEY RAE

It was an early start for the Bard from Barking. Scheduled to start at 9pm, he was on by 8.30. The promoters knew something we didn't, however. Billy Bragg was on a roll, and a nearly three-hour set followed.

In the first half he sat with an acoustic guitar for what he termed the "folk" set. The songs that followed were largely taken from his three collaborative albums with Wilco, Mermaid Avenue, taking the forgotten lyrics of Woody Guthrie and turning them into song.

Opener Aginst Th' Law immediately made clear what this project was all about - Guthrie's sentiments and politics are as relevant in 2012 as they were in the post-Great Depression era when they were written. The lyrics, explaining how anything and everything can be "aginst th' law," could be written about our own police state, Perth, WA.

Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key was the crowd favourite, but every Guthrie lyric rang relevant, thanks to Bragg's long-ranging introductions, bordering on stand-up comedy at times. From Guthrie's sexualising of Ingrid Bergman to the Bragg's rousing tale of the sticker that brandished Guthrie's guitar, "This machine kills fascists", to introduce first-set closer All You Fascists, Bragg was in top form.

How he then bettered it with his own material for the electric guitar-slinging "punk" set is testament to Bragg's own legacy. Opening with The Price I Pay, the momentum only dipped briefly during positive thought weepy I Keep Faith. Greetings To The New Brunette and The Milkman Of Human Kindness had the near sell-out crowd roaring along, while support act Jordie Lane joined Bragg on stage for a cover of Gram Parsons' Sin City, exposing surprisingly lovely harmonies between the two.

Levi Stubbs' Tears suggested the set was peaking, and Bragg used his momentum wisely for a stirring introduction to There Is Power In A Union, uniting an audience who punched the air in response to his sermon.

But perhaps the best was saved for last. Those taking note might be aware of Bragg's updating of the lyrics to Waiting For The Great Leap Forward, and tonight's rendition included the hilarious "Tony Abbott thinks all women should be quiet/ All I can say is free Pussy Riot". It left a shout-along to A New England to finish off a near perfect one-man show.

The West Australian

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