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Everyone’s favorite singing socialist Billy Bragg brought his guitars, his convictions, and a fascination with masturbation to the 9:30 Club stage last night. With D.C.’s close proximity to Delaware, the state where Christine O’Donnell just won a primary on an anti-masturbation platform, Bragg said he had a strong urge to play all of the songs he’s written about “self-love.” Roughly a quarter of his 17-song set, um, stroked the subject.
Other topics of the evening included the problem with American football (“Not enough foots in contact with the ball to consider it football”), his first visit to a Cracker Barrel and the Creationism Museum in Kentucky (yes, Virgina, one does really exist), and the difference between Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart (“Jon Stewart is based on irony; Glenn Beck is based on cynicism”). However, when Bragg did sing, he spanned the years of his song catalog, along with a few of the Woody Guthrie covers he did on 1998’s Mermaid Avenue. At the age of 53, Bragg’s timber still remains in fine form, seeming relatively unchanged since his first release way back in 1983.
As Bragg was only on song #12 after 90 minutes, (like I said, he enjoys talking), I had to take my leave early. The last song I saw, “The Milkman of Human Kindness,” wound up as a hearty sing-along by the audience during the chorus, which seemed to pleasantly surprise Bragg. “I didn’t expect that from a Sunday night audience; Had I known that, I’d have included many more sing-alongs,” he said.
Opening for Bragg was Australian Darren Hanlon. Hanlon is apparently quite a cult favorite as multiple people near me in the crowd spoke of how long they have waited to see him live. He rarely plays the States.
Influenced by other story tellers like Springsteen, Dylan, and Bragg, he said, and armed with a lovely old acoustic guitar, Hanlon sang songs that were kind of odd (one is literally about the game of squash), but also kind of charming (another was story of finding the #17 bus in Oregon to no avail). And while one might normally find quirky stuff like that a bit “meh,” Hanlon’s display of song story telling and self-effacing humor won the audience. So much so that he was even able to secure a ride back to Cleveland, OH from someone in the audience.
(Bragg joining Hanlon for the last song of his set)
Additional photos from both sets can be found here.