The angst of Billy Bragg was on high octane with his inspiring performance Monday evening at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club. Fresh off his time spent at Folk Alliance, this Presidents Day solo performance concert was a recharge of his batteries to once again write songs. For those not familiar with this artist, it was a wakeup call for a politically laced performance that not everyone was strapped in for. Those that were seeking an escape from the evening news, Bragg was about to debate the reasons to stare fear in the face and not look away.
Strapping on his electric guitar, Bragg came out strumming “A Lover Sings”, “Accident Waiting to Happen”, and a stirring “Help Save The Youth of America” before switching to his acoustic. Bragg talked about how the folk music lovers have “adopted” him as a protest singer and made a few topical enhancements to Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” adding the word “Back”. The songbook timeline then went from “Sexuality” to a story about growing up listening to Lonnie Donegan skiffle music and “Rock Island Line” from Shine A Light: Field Recordings From the Great American Railroad album he did with Joe Henry. “Upfield” was the final acoustic number as Bragg went electric the rest of the way treating the crowd to a new song titled “Sleep of Reason”. Tipping his hat to Woody, the next wave included “All You Fascists”, “A Pict Song”, and “The Saturday Boy”. Bragg explained that he learned about the social injustice in America during the ‘60’s from listening to music before he launched into “ Levi Stubbs’ Tears”. That was followed by “Why We Build The Wall” from Anais Mitchell and the sing-a-long favorite “The Milkman of Human Kindness”. A dissertation about empathy, action and solidarity precluded “Between The Wars” and “There is a Power in a Union” to close out his set. For his encore, Bragg delivered “”I Keep The Faith” and a rocking “A New England” sending the faithful home with a positive message and energy.
The crowd was treated to a very special twin bill as Jon Langford, who performed at a house concert the night before, opened the show with a quick eight song set. Playing solo acoustic, Langford entertained the audience with “Over the Cliff”, “Drone Operator”, “Millionaire”, “Hank Williams Must Die”, “Luxury”, and “1,2,3,4ever”, covering his career with The Mekons, Waco Brothers, and Skull Orchard. Recounting a story about the late great Joe Strummer, whom was also from the seaport town of Newport, South Wales, Langford delivered a stirring rendition of “Xray Style” before closing his set with a new song referencing one of his art pieces called “Watch the Bonehead”.
The two songwriters didn’t come out and play together, but maybe they will decide to take this show on the road. It was a perfect pairing.