Monday, June 23, 2008

Billy Bragg @ Harbourfront Centre, June 17

There’s not much I could say about seeing Billy Bragg live that I couldn’t say about the dozen or so shows I’ve seen of his in the past. His set list has remained, frustratingly, the same for years — heavy on his early, solo-guitar work; virtually skipping his best record, Workers Playtime (with the exception of “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards,” with updated, post-Cold War lyrics); and closing with the singalong crowd-pleaser, “A New England.” Sprinkle in a few songs from his current CD – which happens this time to be the mediocre Mr. Love & Justice — and you’ve got the template for Billy gigs for time eternal.
     That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. Billy’s a terrific entertainer, whose legendary between-song banter is part comedian, part rabble-rouser. And his guitar playing and singing, while never a thing of beauty, is perenially underrated. He’s the Jimmy Connors of folk singing, someone who has gotten the most out of so little.
     So there were few surprises on this night, other than the fact that Billy’s concerts are becoming family affairs. Several kids were in the crowd, and Bragg — a father himself — spent a lot of time (too much, if you ask me) addressing the children and filling their requests.
     The other surprise was opener C.R. Avery, who simply blew me away. I dare say he’s the best opening act I’ve ever seen (sorry Flash Lightnin), which is impressive considering how badly it could have all gone. I was told he was a folk singer-slash-poet who beatboxes, which has disaster written all over it. He even did a poem about Pierre Elliott Trudeau — and, amazingly, it worked. Needless to say, you need to see him to believe it.
(Thanks Polly for the photo.)

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