Billy Bragg Steals The Show

Hitchcock was good but Billy was great.

Robyn Hitchcock never seemed the type of artist to be

out-performed. In fact, a lot of people really didn't understand why he

was opening for Billy Bragg at t Chicago's Vic Theater last week. After all,

Bragg kind of dropped off the scene some five years ago (he called it "extended

paternity leave") and Robyn is, well, Robyn.

I mean, who can really top an

artist who's been known to do "Kung Fu Fighting" a cappella?

Billy

Bragg.

Now, I've always been a fan of a little between song banter. I think

it adds a lot to the intimacy and interest of a show. Granted, Hitchcock's

introductions were often as quirky as the lyrics themselves. But by the end of

the sold out Devil's Night show, I found myself not having a lot to say about

the Hitchcock part of the show. Yes, he's wonderful. Yes, the violinist that

was brought out for a few of the songs interacted with Hitchcock in a magical

way. Decked out in a bright orange dress, leading Hitchcock and therefore the

entire audience to start calling her Pumpkin Girl (hey, the red hair didn't

hurt either), Deni Bonet added a playful added a lot of style and playful

elegance to the songs she played on, including Moss Elixir's first

track, "Sinister but she was happy."

But then, after Hitchcock's encore

which found him changing shirts, of course, into a silk Escher lizard pattern,

Billy Bragg came out and showed us all what is meant by the term

performer.



Bragg ducked straight into his infamous leftist, liberal

British banter and it was all over. Spouting opinions about everything from

what Americans call "Football" (Bragg calls it runny-catchy), to the political

power of the Soccer Mums, to Alanis Morissette, Bragg kept the audience on

their toes both during his songs, and between them. Regarding Ms. Thang, Bragg

told the audience that he had just learned that "Jagged Little Pill" wasn't her

first album, but that she had two Debbie-Gibson-esque pop albums back in

Canada. He figured that one of them, Now is the Time, must have been her

"political album." "I've got one hand in my pocket," he mimicked, "and the

other is raising a hammer and sickle.... Don't put that in your pocket,

Alanis."

Bragg's songs have always been fairly blatantly personal. There's

no hiding his political or personal agenda here. But when you're singing

personal songs over a long enough career, they tend to lose their meaning for

the artist. Some bands just keep plugging away at them, but Bragg has taken a

different approach. He's reworked them so that they still have meaning for a

man who's now married and has a child, Jack. He explained during his encore

that when he first started to re-emerge from his paternity leave and tour in

support of his new album, William Bloke he had stopped doing some of the

traditional favorites because he's not 22 anymore. However he got a lot of

flack (especially on the Internet) for this course of action, so he's revamped.

With every bit of Bragg wit included. No longer is it: "I'm not looking to

change the world. I'm not looking for a New England. I'm just looking for

another girl." Now it's "I'm not looking to change the world. I'm not looking

for a New England. I'm just looking for a good baby sitter." Or perhaps: "I'm

not looking to change the world. I'm not looking for a New England. I'm just

looking for another girl... No, honey, it's nothing like that, I was just

thinking it'd be nice if Jack had a little sister sometime, you know."

In

the end, I think I was more impressed by the performance than really hit by his

music. I'm not sure that's the effect an artist really tries for. Still, Billy

Bragg made me think, made me laugh, made me examine some politics. What more

can you ask from an artist?