Something to Bragg about

Billy Bragg

Canberra Theatre

Billy Bragg performed in Canberra last night.
Billy Bragg performed in Canberra last night. Photo: Karen McBride

Tuesday, October 23  

Sexuality broke his string but Billy Bragg soldiered on like a true professional.

He had almost made it through the last verse of the opening song of his second set – the crowd-pleasing Sexuality – but his shiny silver Telecaster had a mind of its own and decided to shed a string.

“Lucky I’m versatile,” Bragg told his Canberra audience as he handed the electric axe to his guitar tech and then picked up his acoustic to play a couple of ballads while the Fender was being restrung.

By that time the Canberra Theatre’s capacity audience was quite familiar with the small bodied Gibson L00 acoustic guitar.

Bragg had played it throughout his entire opening set – a very different one to the second half of the show.

The English punk-folk rocker had the crowd mesmerised during the whole opening 50-minute set, which was an impressive feat considering that he remained seated throughout and played only acoustic ballads.

It was the content of those ballads and Bragg’s commanding delivery, however, which swept the audience along.

Bragg was there to perform songs of the long-gone legendary folk and protest singer Woody Guthrie.

Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue project with Wilco some years back gave the world greater insight to Guthrie through the release of unrecorded songs from the dustbowl balladeer.

Bragg and Wilco put music to numerous Guthrie lyrics that were discovered by his family.

The Canberra show on Tuesday night showcased some of those songs while also providing Bragg with a forum to talk about Guthrie and share some extraordinary accounts of his life.

It was a brilliant set, enhanced by the sheer intimacy of the setting.

After the interval Bragg’s “evil twin brother” appeared centre stage – still alone, but now standing and with Telecaster in hand.   

It was another hour of solo Bragg, but a slightly angrier, much more energised rocker.

Again, he kept the audience in his hand throughout, delighting them with excellent renditions of many of the great songs from his own back catalogue.

The string-breaking incident during the opening song caused tuning difficulties throughout the entire second set, but Bragg took it in his stride by making fun of himself as he twiddled with the tuning keys.

Humour was a big part of the show, but so too was Bragg’s wont to share his well-known leftist political views.

Although a bit preachy on that front, the rocker made some good points that seemed to renovate with the audience.

But with every concert, it’s all about the music and Bragg’s music and message hit the mark.

His voice was in fine form, with him continually hitting the highest of notes and hanging endlessly onto others with ease.

And his guitar playing?

Bragg was in his element on that front too – the tuning issues simply made the show all the more punk rock.