There are musicians that play great music, but the lyrics don’t have any substance. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but most of time that music is marketed toward the masses. Then there are musicians that produce music that make you sit, think, analyze, and constantly have you listening over and over because their songs are that powerful. One musician that has powerful songs is Billy Bragg. Let it be political, romantic, or daily life, Billy Bragg has a way of making the listener stop, rewind, and dive into the meaning of his songs. A prolific songwriter for sure, when he comes over to the States to tour, it is a must show to see since he only makes the trek about once a year. However, with COVID, this was his first time in the States since 2019 and it was worth the wait.
Opening the tour was Alice Phoebe Lou, a singer-songwriter that has made a name for herself staying independent since she started playing. Having just released her latest album, Child’s Play in December, Alice played one song from that album with a focus on her setlist being from her album Glow. Child’s Play has more full band songs compared to Glow, and Alice mentioned mid-set that she doesn’t usually do solo shows all that much, but how can you say no to a tour with Billy Bragg. She made it work and her set was a mix of emotions with moody songs, upbeat songs, and powerful songs like “Dirty Mouth”. Towards the end of her set she mentioned that she will be back in the Philadelphia area at the end of the year, but that show will be with a full band. She might play some songs solo, but if you want to find out, she will be at World Cafe Live December 7.
Since the pandemic a lot of things have changed for people, especially musicians. Some people became angry, others showed their true colors, and some took it all in, processed it, and tried to make sense of it. For Billy Bragg he did what he does best, and reflected on the current times and produced a wonderful album called The Million Things That Never Happened. A lot of musicians produced new music during this time, but Billy Bragg’s album hit the closest to home. The Keswick Theatre show featured about six songs from The Million Things That Never Happened, and the best part of these new songs being played was hearing about the inspiration behind them. Sure, that time could’ve been filled with additional songs, but the best part of Billy Bragg shows is when he talks to audience. For one, it is great way to get insight on songs, but also his shows feel more authentic compared to other concerts. We are all people and not just tickets to him. One highlight was the story behind “Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained”, a nonpolitical song about how he would watch videos on YouTube and always see the same thumbnail on mysterious photos that can’t be explained. Once clicked you end up going down a rabbit hole and find out hours have passed and you’ve just spent hours watching nothing. As for the rest of his set, Billy Bragg played just about one song from each of his records including “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key” from the Wilco & Billy Bragg album Mermaid Avenue and “All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose” originally done by Woody Guthrie. Even though nothing was played off Tooth & Nail, a personal favorite of mine, Billy Bragg played a wide range from his library of songs that fit perfectly to the themes of a post pandemic world. Also, it should be mentioned that accompanying Billy Bragg was Jacob Stoney on piano which added a more full sound to Billy’s older songs. With the year ending, and things going back to normalish, hopefully Billy Bragg will continue his yearly tradition making his way back over to the States and we won’t have to wait long to see him again.