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Billy Bragg @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Sept. 9, 2010

Sep. 13, 2010
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The floor of the Turner Hall Ballroom was crowded with small, candlelit tables for Billy Bragg’s Thursday night concert, creating a vibe more fitting for dinner theater than an evening of political folk-punk.

“Who’s playing tonight, Burt Bacharach?” a Bragg fan loudly said as he surveyed the scene. The diverse crowd included middle-aged folks who looked like English teachers and young punks slouching in spiky leather jackets.

After a short set from Australian folk singer Darren Hanlon, Bragg took the stage, smiling politely and looking at ease in a polo shirt and slacks. The singer started with some of his love songs, “The Price I Pay” and “Shirley.”

The British Bragg took time between songs to talk to the audience about the many things that puzzle or alarm him about American culture. He said watching American television “gave him nightmares,” although he admitted a fondness for the Weather Channel. He described a stop for dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Wisconsin Dells as a “horror show,” and recalled the loud, alarming environment as he sipped on a mug of tea.

“It’s Throat Coat tea—if you drink enough of it, it makes you think you can sing in tune,” he joked.

While on the topic, he took the opportunity to speak out against the Tea Party and Glenn Beck, and delved into British politics as well, but he also declared war on cynicism.

“I believe the glass is half full,” he said as he began strumming his song “Tomorrow’s Going to Be a Better Day.”

Some of Bragg’s most inspired singing came in the form of three Woody Guthrie songs. He started with “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore,” and noted, “It could have been written in the last 18 months, but it was written 70 years ago.” He also played two songs featuring Guthrie-penned lyrics and Bragg-written music, “Ingrid Bergman” and “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.”

Bragg played two of his own biggest hits as well: “Sexuality” and, for an encore performance, “A New England,” an upbeat song that had the audience chanting along.

Photo by CJ Foeckler


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