ReviewedFriday September 13
There is something wonderful about attending a gig of an artist with a legacy, imagining the fans at the same gig 30 years ago. The vibe at the Factory Theatre this Friday night may start out like an awkward school reunion, but one hour into Billy Bragg’s set, the auditorium returns to 1983 and the audience is riled up and youthful, fists in the air.
Bragg enters the stage alone, picks up his acoustic guitar, sets his cup of tea down and bursts straight into 1986 hit ‘The Warmest Room’. Throughout the evening, Bragg weaves us back and forth in time through rhyme and story, politics and romance. An angst-ridden love song (“written only to get laid,” he says) is followed by a more recent ballad on relationship expectations, ‘Chasing Rainbows’: “If you go chasing rainbows / Then you’re bound to end up getting wet”.
Bragg intercepts each song with anecdotes and cheek, reminding us that despite the cup of tea, he is still an outspoken cockney punk with a guitar. He recalls the controversial joke he once told the Queen (who later requested a signed copy of his album) and how he welcomed the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death with a smile.
When Bragg turns his monologue to the recent Aussie election, the lefties in the audience make themselves known. He takes this opportunity to tell us, “The worst possible outcome after an election is cynicism,” and follows up this insight with a song about equal marriage (“…as we refer to it in England. Not ‘gay’ or ‘same-sex marriage’”). He encourages us to stand up for what we believe, that we can make a difference and announces a march for refugee rights in Sydney on Sunday. More than two hours into his set, he aptly closes with ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ and a dad joke about a man in a bank queue (just to remind us that he is, after all, 55).
But wait… what about all the tracks from first album Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy? Surely this is cause for an encore. Bragg re-enters the stage with electric guitar in hand (and another cup of tea) and announces that considering it’s the album’s 30th birthday and it’s only 17 minutes long, why not do an album encore? And so we all sing along to the music that made his mark in the ’80s: ‘The Milkman Of Human Kindness’, ‘A New England’ and more. I leave the auditorium with a bunch of punks from 1983.