When I arrived at the Melkweg and found out that Billy was scheduled to play on the small stage, I was a little shocked. As I grabbed a beer and listened to the support act belt out a cracking version of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues I looked around the room and noticed it was nowhere near as busy as I had expected it to be.
These two points had me slightly panicked at the thought that maybe Billy was passed it. Maybe this would be a disappointing performance to just a couple of hundred people?
But what I had forgotten is that Billy has been doing this for over 30 years and from the very first moment he and the band took the stage all fears would be allayed, Billy was in a rocking mood and I was in seventh heaven.
Billy brings charm and charisma to every stage performance. He is also as sharp as a tack and quick to make people laugh at his own expense or someone else’s. And what you notice as he jumps into one of his monologues is that he has really engaged with the crowd and then, just when they least expect it, he hits them right between the eyes with a brilliant piece of social commentary.
Now I believe that this is probably the 5th or 6th time I have seen Billy play and whilst some of the shtick is the same from show to show, lines about throat coat and hurling the tea back into the crowd at the end of the gig there were a few new ones that got a giggle out of me. Like when he told the crowd that when he was recently touring through the states that all the kids had full beards and the hipster goatie was now a thing of the past….therefore all the kids in bands wanted to look like him….a full bearded 50 something year old, well clearly he would take that any day of the year.
He had another funny story was that in a recent write-up in the UK, the reviewer identified that Billy had gone a bit country, to which he explained had also been said in his early reviews. Although it is fair to say that on the night, with a peddle steel guitar being played by one of the lads, there was a bit of country going on. But it was just one part of the performance and by no stretch of the imagination did it define the night.
So the tracks that I loved over the course of the evening were Fascists, I aint Got No Home in this World Anymore, Sexuality, Levis Stubbs, New England, Way over Yonder in the Minor Key, Accident, and the grand finally Waiting for the Great Leap Forward! None of the tracks were performed greatly different from any previous times that I had seen him, but there is something about having a bloody good sing along with everyone that can't help but make you feel good.
Following the end of the show Billy stood around signing stuff and chatting until everyone was done. He explained to me that this is part of his comedown routine. This is because when he first comes off stage he is totally abuzz and meeting and greeting is his way of starting to unwind. And a couple of beers never hurts either!
Having seen the music deity, Bob Dylan the previous week it was great to see on this night, a performer who both wanted to entertain and engage with the crowd, and who also looked like they were having a bloody good time doing it.
And let me be clear this is not a knock on Bob at all, this is more of a tip your hat moment to Bill.
So, for 200 Euro you could get a VIP ticket to Bob Dylan and still not get to meet the man. For another 10,000 euro you could get a set of his used harmonicas. Or for 40 euro you could get a ticket to Billy Bragg, a t-shirt for your troubles, chat with the guy, and have a bloody good night out.
I will let you pick which one you would rather.