"What a nice way to stress-test your constitution!" Billy Bragg, tongue-in-cheek all the while, brought out the best in the audience last night at the Music Box. It was Presidents Day — one month into the administration of Donald Trump — and there was much to talk about.
There was also the music.
Across some 90 minutes, Bragg worked his way through the old and the new stuff — including a particularly stirring rendition of "The Times They Are A-Changin' Back" (written directly in response to the inauguration and with apologies to Bob Dylan). Bragg said he's been kickin' around the country a lot lately, mostly performing "train songs" and reveling in the "genre-fluid" nature of Americana and folk and punk and everything else he touches. It's a good time to be on the road.
Backed by a simple backdrop of blue light, Bragg confidently stoked the catharsis of the evening. He rolled out the Woody Guthrie-penned "All You Fascists Bound to Lose" to rolling applause from across the room of some 300. ("Woody was always ready with another song," Bragg said. "That's where a culture takes its strength from.")
There was a really cool moment when someone called out for "A Pict Song" (words by Rudyard Kipling), and Bragg sloppily stumbled through the main riff to show that he didn't know it off the top of his head — and then immediately started over from the top, super-clean and spot-on, and performed the inspiring tune. The crowd loved it.
Bragg talked through a number of the day's current events — alt-right jackass Milo Yiannowhatever "going down in flames," Trump's unfounded Swedish terrorist attack claims, the daunting runaway success of La La Land, etc. — and insisted that there's still cause for hope. "We wouldn't be having this much fun if Hillary had won," he said. "Let's be honest."
"There's an electricity in the air," he said as his show was wrapping up. "This is how we recharge our batteries. I have an unbending faith in the ability of the audience to change the world."
And with that, we walked back into Cleveland, feeling, yes, rather revitalized and ready to dance on the graves of tyrants.