Billy Bragg Garrick Centre, Winnipeg MB - September 26

Billy Bragg Garrick Centre, Winnipeg MB - September 26
About midway through his recent solo show in Winnipeg, the Bard from Barking stopped, not uncharacteristically, to tell a story, the gist of which was that he’d lost his voice on an earlier U.S. tour. He’d been concerned about sounding like a croaky foghorn but was taken down a peg by his manger, who said, "Billy, people don’t come to hear you sing.” The truth of that statement couldn’t have been more evident at this two-hour show, only about one hour of which was taken up by actual songs. The rest was filled out by Bragg’s usual mixture of rambling, hilarious anecdotes and pointed political invectives. And the audience of 700 ate it up — the 48-year-old singer is like your mischievous Bolshie uncle, the one the other relatives warn you will put foolish ideas in your head. You can practically see his eyes twinkling from the back rows as he makes fun of Canadian football ("or as I call it, ‘runny, runny, catchy’”) and makes Michael Ignatieff jokes in between sips of tea. Accompanied only by his electric guitar, Bragg culled tunes from a career-spanning set list, opening with "To Have and Have Not” from his 1983 debut album and making his way through a host of popular favourites, including the happy jangle of "Sexuality” and "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward.” With his reputation as a political troubadour, it’s often overlooked that Bragg has penned some of the sweetest love songs around — the unrequited heartache of "The Saturday Boy” amongst them. The second encore ended with a vigorous sing-along of "A New England.” The evening would have felt like a more momentous occasion (and warranted the rather steep ticket price) with a full band but it’s hard to complain about a show that engages the heart and the brain. Bragg knows he’s preaching to the converted, especially in Wobbly-loving Winnipeg, but his sermon is inspiring nonetheless.