Billy Bragg at the Cedar Cultural Center, 9/8/2010

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Photos by Alexa Jones
Billy Bragg
September 8, 2010
Cedar Cultural Center


Wednesday night proved to be the perfect time for Billy Bragg to come rolling through Minneapolis (when isn't it, really), with the political winds starting to blow fitfully, and frustration being felt by all classes of society. So, the erudite Englishman had a lot of contentious material to drawn on to rally the full house at the Cedar Cultural Center, as he played a spirited, rousing solo set, mixing in insightful, penetrating social commentary that was received warmly by the boisterous, supportive crowd.

Bragg officially kicked off the club dates on his current U.S. tour at the Cedar (having played Bumbershoot in Seattle on Sunday), and he was determined to mix in a lot of his old classics with some brand new songs that he hasn't had the chance to play live before. It proved to be a winning combination, as his nearly 2-hour set flowed smoothly, continually peppered with funny anecdotes and uplifting calls to action.

Bragg was in a jovial, passionate mood all evening, joking about how he was on the Current earlier in the day, and the DJ referred to him as a "sensual, sexy" and before she could get the next word out, Bragg said "socialist." He lamented how there unfortunately wasn't enough time to get that phrase emblazoned on a t-shirt, but they did have "a lovely array of t-shirts for sale now that you bastards have stopped buying records." The 20-song set kicked off with a fiery version of "To Have And Have Not," which carried over well into a tender rendition of "The Price I Pay." The whole performance was a nice blend of inspiring singalongs ("Greetings To The New Brunette (Shirley)"), and affectionate, deeply personal numbers ("Tank Park Salute"), with Bragg switching from electric to acoustic guitar mid-set to add some emotion to his already intense songs.

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Photos by Alexa Jones
Bragg debuted two brand new songs that he wrote for Pressure Drop, a play being put on in London, and both "Tomorrow's Going To Be A Better Day" and "The Reckoning" went over well with the crowd, and fit in seamlessly amongst his earlier material. He talked plenty of politics, of course, saying that what is killing our society right now "isn't socialism, it isn't capitalism, it's cynicism. Not Glenn Beck's cynicism, but ours." Bragg encouraged everyone: "Don't give in to your cynicism. That is what they want you to do. Now isn't the time to give up, now is the time to push harder." And his songs spoke to that drive and zeal, with "NPWA," "I Keep Faith," and main set closer "There Is A Power In A Union" all resonating strongly with the impassioned audience. Bragg also played a couple of Mermaid Avenue tracks during the night, delivering stirring versions of both "My Flying Saucer" and "The Unwelcome Guest," as well as announcing that they are getting together a full release of all the additional tracks Bragg has recorded with Wilco (some 35-40 songs) that should be out to commemorate Woody Guthrie's 100th Birthday in 2012.

The dynamic set closed with a spirited singalong on "A New England" with Bragg reverently adding the extra verses he wrote for Kirsty MacColl, who famously recorded a version of this song, but tragically died in 2000. It was a raucous, fitting end to a lively show that inspired as well as captivated the crowd, with Billy Bragg serving as our rabble-rousing ringleader. It was a night that proved that politics and music can mix effectively when done in an intelligent, informed manner. And hopefully all of us can take to heart the stirring music and compelling words of Billy Bragg and foster some real change in both our culture and our times.

Critic's Bias: I am more aware of Billy Bragg's politics than his music, but am a big fan of both.
The Crowd: A mix of elder statesmen and younger folks, all supportive of Bragg's hopeful message of diligence and tenacity.
Overheard In The Crowd: In one of the funnier exchanges of the evening, Bragg said that he has friends that would love Minneapolis, but he just can't tell them about the dark secret. To which someone in the crowd shouted "St. Paul?" Bragg was impressed with that riposte, saying the secret is "all of the snow, and that it's dark 9 months of the year. If I wanted that, I'd move to Scotland."
Random Notebook Dump: Bragg's son is now 16 years old. I think I remember seeing him perform a long time ago when he mentioned that his son was just born. Time does indeed fly.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Alexa Jones.

Setlist:

To Have And To Have Not
The Price I Pay
Greetings To The New Brunette (Shirley)
Richard
Tomorrow's Going To Be A Better Day
The Short Answer
The Reckoning
Sexuality (Acoustic)
Everywhere (Acoustic)
My Flying Saucer (Acoustic)
If You Ever Leave (Acoustic)
NPWA
Tank Park Salute
The Milkman Of Human Kindness
Levi Stubbs' Tears
I Keep Faith
There Is Power In A Union
The World Turned Upside Down (Encore)
The Unwelcome Guest (Encore)
A New England (Encore)  



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