Billy Bragg in Victoria: Politics and Heartbreak

The Milkman of Human Kindness has gone grey, grown a beard "to hide a multitude of sins" and found a, dare I say it, sweeter tone.

Billy Bragg

The Milkman of Human Kindness has gone grey, grown a beard “to hide a multitude of sins” and found a, dare I say it, sweeter tone.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed about socialist poet and post-punk, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg is his compassion. Playing to a near sell-out crowd at Victoria’s Alix Goolden Hall Thursday night, Bragg showed that he’s managed to age gracefully — unless something really pisses him off. Such songs as “All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose” and “There Will Be A Reckoning” showed off his strong, political views, while his concern for the next generation came through in “No One Knows Nothing Any More.”

His compassion for his fellow “brothers and sisters” shone in such new songs as “I Ain’t Got A Home” — a Woody Guthrie cover off Tooth & Nail, his first studio album in five years — that could have easily been penned today rather than 70 years ago.

When I first saw Bragg back in 1986 (Holy &*$#, I’m getting old), he was this lean, angry young man full of political rage, and yet with a heartbreaking tenderness in such songs as “The Milkman of Human Kindness” (still one of my favourite lines of poetry). Back then, his lyrics were so important that none of us really cared if he sang out of tune. Heck, that was part of his charm. At that concert, I remember, his encore was a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” except he changed the lyrics to “Acid Rain.”

Twenty seven years later, his voice has actually improved, while his lyrics remain just as vivid.

After a standing ovation, Bragg finished up his set with the rousing “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards” as a way to send the audience home with a few thoughts on what they can do to better the world. And that is classic Bragg.

Opening act Kim Churchill is just so darn cute — curly blond hair, bare feet, fading Australian tan — that you don’t expect the incredible sound that comes out of him. At only 22-years-old, he’s already a superstar in my books — and he had the audience mesmerized.

Starting his set alone on stage with his sweet, deep voice and guitar, the crowd was lulled into a false sense of singer-songwriter, folk fest style polite applause. But then Churchill really started to warm up, playing harmonica, tapping on a stomp box with his left foot while shaking a tambourine with his right, and that guitar playing . . . Wow!

His hands were all over that guitar, from playing the neck with both hands, to pounding a rhythm on its body; the audience could barely contain itself.

This is one artist that I can’t wait to see again. M

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