Star rating - 9/10
Billy Bragg has truly been the soundtrack to my adult life. I came as a student to Manchester in 1983 and his Life's A Riot with Spy Vs Spy was the most played record I had - I literally wore it out. His heady mix of politics and relationship woes spoke to me then, and still speak to me now. His gig at the intimate Band on the Wall club in Manchester felt just as fresh as when I first saw him play live at Salford University in 1984.
Yes - he is preaching to the converted at his gigs, but at least he has the balls to keep on doing what he does and to carry on shaking (some) of us out of the lethargy of our more mature years. It's scary to think that the other members of his current band probably weren't born when his first songs were released. They certainly pick up on the vibe of the old songs very well, and are a talented bunch of musicians. I'm always a sucker for a bit of pedal steel, and Chris Hillman showed what a real master of it he is.
There were just enough of the classic songs to keep the stalwarts happy, mixed with tracks from his new Tooth and Nail album, which sounded even better live than they do on the album. Some personal highlights were the opener Ideology; the bleak and poignant Valentine's Day Is Over; and the rousing You Woke Up My Neighbourhood. And I've simply got to mention in passing that Greetings to the New Brunette has my second favourite song lyric by anyone ever ("How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?" It still makes me smile whenever I hear it). Billy Bragg is also responsible for my all time favourite lyric but as he didn't play that song tonight I won't reveal what it is unless you can guess ...
He treated us to his usual entertaining mix of self deprecation, amusing anecdotes (from their recent North American tour), and more serious deeply held views about amongst other things gay marriage, fascists, and Liberal Democrats.
He signed off as often does with Waiting for the Great Leap Forward, and we went away with our hearts a little lighter and our world a little brighter. It's enough to shake the cynicism out of even the most hard hearted person. You know what you're getting with Billy Bragg - mixing pop and politics? - yes please. And we'll all be doing it again at the slightly more formal setting of the Bridgewater Hall in November. I personally don't care if he's called country, soul, folk or punk - he's Billy Bragg is all.
By the way - do yourself a favour and check out this hilarious video of his Handyman Blues featuring lots of famous comedians in a well known DIY superstore near you...