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All Hail Billy Bragg

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On Tuesday night I got to live a decade-long dream: I got to see Billy Bragg live in concert. He calmly stormed the stage armed only with an electric guitar. There was no backing band and no crazy stage show. His performance at the Vogue was as intimate and as powerful as it would have been at an English pub or picket line 30 years ago.

His set covered the strongest points of his career and included some of his most powerful songs (like “To Have and To Have Not” from 1983’s Life’s A Riot With Spy vs. Spy and “Everywhere” from 1991’s Don’t Try This At Home). Many musicians in the punk and indie rock worlds have looked up to and imitated Billy Bragg for his style, sound, message and charm.

His banter in between songs was flawless. It was equally funny and heartfelt. His political tangents never became polarizing and never detracted from the performance itself. At no point in the night did I feel the urge to scream “Less Talk, More Rock!” towards the stage.

Billy Bragg: Best show of 2010.
  • Billy Bragg: Best show of 2010.

The most curious thing about the entire evening was the size of the crowd. It was noticeably lacking. Billy Bragg is one of the most well-known and respected musicians in the world. His music and collaborations with folk, punk and indie musicians (see Mermaid Avenues 1 & 2) have won him a fan base that transcends any particular scene. Yet at the busiest night club on the busiest street in Indianapolis, the legendary Billy Bragg couldn’t play a sold-out show. Now, I have seen week nights where Hairbangers Ball (a hair metal tribute band) has a line that spills out on to the sidewalk.

Would more people in Indianapolis honestly rather pay to see a bunch of clowns play cover songs in homage to one of the worst periods in musical history than go see Billy Bragg? A Billy Bragg show anywhere in America is something to get excited about, not to mention a Billy Bragg show right here in Indianapolis.

If we want to attract more interesting, grade-A acts to play in our city, we need to start appreciating the ones that do come through first. Don't just talk about something, DO something. Don't just listen to music, go see it live. If more people in this town were more pro-active about the music and arts that we do have, then we would see a lot more roll through. I had a blast watching one of my musical heroes waltz through his greatest hits, but there should have been a lot more people there enjoying it with me.

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