Billy Bragg performed a political and romantic two-hour set tonight at the Historic Turner Ballroom. Before his second song, "The Price I Pay," he spoke of Minneapolis public radio describing him as "sensual, sexy and Socialist," words that well-describe the 52-year-old Bragg.
He opened the show with oldies "To Have And To Have Not" and "Greetings To The New Brunette." He asked the audience what they thought of the line, "I'm more impressionable when my cement is wet." Funny, considering the line stands out to some fans as both obscure and sexual.
"Ever wonder about that line?" he asked the audience. "I sing it every night and it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth."
Could he be referring to similarity between the words "cement" and "semen?" Who knows.
The banter between Bragg and the audience was lively and yet, when he spoke, the audience was all ears. He went on to speak of conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck and of fundamentalist pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn the Quran.
Bragg declared a "war on cynicism" that became the theme of his performance. The once-cynical Bragg said he was now a "glass half-full" person.
Bragg offered a rendition of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home In This World" and a spoken ode to Guthrie. He then played "Sexuality" from Bragg's 1991 release, "Don't Try This At Home." The juxtaposition of sex and politics in these two songs was classic Bragg.
Again, Bragg filled the hall with humor when he recalled that he had played at Turner Hall before.
"A long time ago, I played in this hall's inauguration. It was 1896," he said, poking fun at his age.
He continued the folly, talking about going to a Cracker Barrel restaurant earlier in the day in Wisconsin Dells.
"You have to understand," he said. "The Cracker Barrel is a horror show for us Europeans."
But despite the lightness of his comments, he followed up with commentary on racism and declared that "although there are a lot of people who feel angry and disenfranchised and need to put their anger somewhere" that the key was to somehow embrace these folks and help them to see the truth in order to reverse racist momentum.
Bragg also played "NPWI (No Power Without Accountability)" and the vintage favorite "Levi Stubbs' Tears." He followed up with a song called "I Keep Faith" and later described that his faith was in community, not a particular religion.
Bragg ended the show with "There Is Power In A Union" and encored with the adolescent-angst-ridden "The Saturday Boy" and an audience sing-a-long with "A New England." For hardcore Bragg fans, these were a few minutes to remember.
Bragg's performance was received by a venue filled with dedicated fans who listened, cheered and in the end, gave him a standing ovation. Twice.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.