• Billy Bragg – Live At Lincoln Center, NYC, 7-27-2011

    As part of the Lincoln Center Out Of Doors series of free summer concerts, Billy Bragg showed up on the perfect summer evening of July 27th for the first stateside occurrence of his ‘Big Busk Out’ show. Say what now? Yeah, basically, the ‘Big Busk Out’ concept is that anyone who wants to can show up at the show and play their own instrument along with Bragg and his entourage – if you don’t know the cords, that’s okay, there are guys standing behind Billy on stage holding up cue cards, making it easy to play along if you want to.

    This is an interesting idea, even if it wasn’t all together completely successful. The opening act, The Black Earth Boys, were a two piece who played with Juldeh Camara, a West African ‘riti’ player. While there was obviously plenty of talent on display, the mix of traditional African music with blues rock staples like ‘Who Do You Love’ seemed more like a horrifying culture clash and a successful fusion of world music types. Regardless, the crowd, most in their forties and fifties and seemingly more interested in looking cultured than actually enjoying the music (at one point an older woman eating bean salad turned around and SHUSHED a friend and I for complaining about the fact that beers were seven bucks a piece) responded with more enthusiasm than this writer was able to muster.


    When they finished up, Bragg took the stage and after explaining the concept of the event, invited everyone to play along and sing along as loudly as they wanted. In very good spirits and really and truly coming across as a sincerely nice guy, Bragg launched into a cover of Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line… not the greatest starting point and probably the worst song of his set. From there he covered The Monkees, Smokey Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Marley, The Weight, and most puzzlingly, Cee-Lo Green (turning ‘Fuck You’ into ‘Forget You’ as there were kids in the audience). As far as material from his own catalogue, the only tracks we got were Power In A Union (itself a cover of sorts but one of Bragg’s most powerful songs) and New England (the only track that really seemed to have everyone in the crowd singing along). He came out for a quick encore and did a rock solid cover of Kristofferson’s Me And Bobby McGee before finishing the night.


    Bragg sounded great, getting a really nice guitar sound out of his acoustic (with the word STRUMMER stenciled on it – a nice, respectful touch and a nod to his roots) but audience participation, as far as the play along side of things was concerned, was minimal. It seemed many in the audience were there not because it was a Billy Bragg show but because it was a free concert at Lincoln Center – and while there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it winds up making for a fairly snobby venue and crowd for what should have been a gathering of ‘common people’ (for lack of a better term). Regardless, Bragg was still worth seeing, even if I know I’m not alone in wishing he’d played more of his own material than he did. His political talks between songs, very much akin to preaching to the choir when addressing a liberal arts crowd such as this, seemed heartfelt enough and you do get the impression he cares about improving the world through his music and his activism.


    A few pictures from the show…















    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Man, your RSP credentials got you some great friggin' pictures!!! Nicely done! and man, Bragg is looking OLD...and what happened to "This Machine Kills Fascists"????
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      It's a nod to the Jail Guitar Doors project he's involved in - he explains it here.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Oh.
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      Dirty hippie.
    1. Barry M's Avatar
      Barry M -
      The eternal struggle: bean eaters vs beer drinkers. I'da shushed you too: shut up and dance.

      Nice review & pics, Ian. The busk thing seems like an extension of the Pete Seeger style audience singalongs Bragg's fond of, but I can't see that it'd work as well. A whole audience sings great, given enough unwashed hippies, but actually play an instrument?

      Performance constipation face always cracks me up:

    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Thanks Barry - I think it was a great idea in theory, but Lincoln Center attacts a certain upper crust element that, at risk of sounding like a music snob, was there more in part to attend something at Lincoln Center than out of any sort of appreciation for Bragg. I could see this working better at a more open environment, where he could be on the same level as the audience and not behind a security barrier 8 feet up on stage. He gets points for trying something different though.
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      I would've enjoyed this show a lot more without the interactive nonsense and the snob-filled crowd. Had it been a regular show instead of a free show where most people didn't even come for him specifically I would have been able to appreciate it more.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      He needs a fucking music stand for 3 chord protest music? Hack.