Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Billy Bragg - 20 October 2012, Readings Bookstore

This was quite a Billy Braggy weekend for Melbourne, with him playing a show of Woody Guthrie material, another of his own, an appearance to support a local union, and this instore appearance (Readings is an independent Melbourne bookstore, which explains some of his comments during the set).

The store was packed with people, including a large number of families who had brought their kids along. The appearance kicked off with a 15 minute Q&A session, and while the questions could have been a bit more interesting, they really only served as a jumping off point for Bragg to offer his thoughts on the topics of the politics of the left, nationalism, flag waving, and of course Woody Guthrie. For casual fans the between song banter at this shows is probably more revelatory, since its more structured, but for hardcore fans there may be something more interesting.

The appearance concluded with a six song set of Bragg classics and one Guthrie song. The set was more hit than miss, but Woody Guthrie’s legacy won’t be particularly helped by the song Dry Bed, which most children’s bands would have dismissed as too trite. Similarly, the updated version of Waiting for the Great Leap Forward removes any nuance in the original, and replaces it with an attempted jab at the current British Government that manages to be both hamfisted and a less funny than intended.

On the other hand, the rest of the set showed what Bragg can do when he doesn’t tackle political topics head-on. Sexuality and England, Half English, in particular, hit the mark.

Because of the Q&A session at the start I cranked the input volume up for this recording. That worked well, but means that any movement on my part leads to a lot of rustling. This only happens a couple of times, and doesn’t drown out what is going on. Other than that, the sound is a pretty good representation of the event – the mike for his guitar didn’t do a good job picking up much, so his voice tends to be slightly too loud, but that’s what it was like on the day.

Yarra Song
The Price I Pay
English, Half English
Dry Bed
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward


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