An Electric Evening With Billy Bragg

Saturday, I experienced the inspiring ecstasy of getting in to see Billy Bragg do a combination conversation/music show at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

The host of the conversation was the amazing Barry Sanders, whom I had the privilege of meeting, chatting with, hugging, and thanking for his profoundly enlightening intellectual work.

Barry and Billy labored hard to get the remarkably stiff audience of art-school donors (NOT art students) to pick up on Billy’s amazing work and thought. I suspect it was an impossible task. Despite the fact that both the exchange of ideas and the music were truly electrifying, the audience, which included Woody Guthrie‘s old Portland taxi driver, mostly sat on its hands.

No matter. In a very intimate room, Billy played a fan’s dream setlist of songs (roughly 3/4 old classics and 1/4 gems from his wonderful new album) in his old-school solo-act/no-band style. Along with a dozen or so fellow ruffians in the seats, I yelled and whooped throughout the show. When (I suspect and hope as a small jab at the obviously privileged and too-polite audience) an encore included “There is Power in a Union,” I jumped up, sang along, and pumped my fist with abandon.

This I assure you: Billy Bragg remains what he has always been — a lifeline to sanity and (rational) faith in embattled humanity. He’s a former young Clash fan who’s become an “Old Clash Fan” who more than carries on the work of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Headon. He is also a very rare thing: a long-careered popular songwriter who gets even better over the years. He shows no signs of running out of energy or ideas.