Billy Bragg at Kane Hall: Saturday, 30 September
For you non-students, Kane Hall is on the University of Washington Campus. It’s a nice auditorium with really good acoustics. Being on campus, the seats even have pullout fold out desks (for taking notes). I was running a bit late, and had never been to Kane Hall before, so I asked directions from some students. It was kind of comical, old guy (me) on campus looking for a building. A couple guys told me it’s right next to the “the flagpole”, and another guy told me to just keep going in that direction (pointing in the direction I was going), you can’t miss it.
I finally found it, walked in and there’s nobody there. Everyone is in the hall seated and watching the opening guy, Otis Gibbs. I felt like I was late for class. The last time I saw Billy Bragg, he had a full band with him, and it was somewhat disappointing. The full band had him attempting, reggae versions of some of his songs, which made me cringe and question my loyalty to the guy. He’s solo this time around, which gave me hopes of him equalling or bettering the shows he did around the time of Talking with the Taxman, Workers Playtime and Don’t Try this at Home.
With a Billy Bragg show, you get equal amounts Billy singing and Billy talking. He made a crack how is manager told him that people don’t come to hear him sing. It’s half true, I think I could sit through a Billy Bragg lecture. There were times tonight when he was talking, that there was complete silence from the audience. He’s funny, thought provoking, and he writes great songs too. Oh yeah, about the songs. We got early stuff like World Turned Upside-down, The Saturday Boy, Like Soldiers Do and Greetings to the New Brunette, but not enough for me. I would have killed to hear The Busy Girl Buys Beauty, and To Have and To Have Not, or the Milkman of Human Kindness. His updated lyrics to Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards made the song even better (no Michelle Shocked backing vocals though). In this setting, even his new songs sounded good, Bush War Blues, his update of Leadbelly’s Bourgeoisie Blues, is a great protest song, and John Barleycorn/England, Half English paints a good picture of the ethnic make-up of his homeland.
It wouldn’t be a Billy Bragg show with out him going off on tangents between songs. He managed to hit on YouTube, Hugo Chavez, goat mating, talking cats, communism, Morrissey, Cheap Trick, and bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. There were a few times that he would keep talking and talking, that I felt like I was a lecture, though a very interesting one.
I guess when a band or artist has been around for so long, you’ll almost inevitably be disappointed in their live show, because they can never play all of your favourites. The best you can hope for is a couple of your favourites. To get all my favorites, I’d have to follow him around on tour, like the Dead.
During the show Billy was talking back and forth with his sound guy, calling him Grant. I remembered from the last time I had seen him that Grant Showbiz was doing sound for him. After the show I went over and asked him if he was the Grant Showbiz. He said yeah! So I asked him some questions about working with Mark E Smith of the Fall. I wanted to know if Mark is truely as notorious as he sounds. Grant said that he was, but that he was so super creative and always thinking, moving and seeing in 50 different directions, that he could be difficult. He compared him to a fly, being able to see and think about stuff from all around. Made him sound like some kind of mad scientist. He said that he is currently working with Mr. Smith and his new American band on their new record. He sounded optimistic.
When we were leaving, I saw the “flag pole” that the first two guys giving me directions were referring to. It was pretty big, It’s actually the tallest in the state of Washington. No wonder they looked at me funny when I said what flagpole?
Read Billy’s tour blog here.