ST. PETERSBURG – Once in a while a militant music punter has the privilege of attending a concert that will strike both a political and musical chord.
Accompanied by his guitar and sweaty, blue-collared shirt, the English singer/songwriter Billy Bragg delivered an insurgent performance last Saturday night. The laid-back atmosphere of Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg provided the perfect setting for an evening of idealism and melodic brilliance.
Kicking off the evening was Texan progressive populist Jim Hightower, whose spoken word set got the audience questioning the “fascist dictatorship” of the Bush regime and expressing other anti-corporate opinions.
Followed by the less political, yet soulful Twinemen, the crowd was treated to an organic 30-minute arrangement. Featuring the nucleus of the now-defunct Morphine, their blues-jazz tunes were highlighted by the hypnotic sounds of the baritone sax of Dana Colley.
Nonetheless, no supporting act could divert the attention away from Bragg on his first ever Florida tour. His entrance was anxiously awaited by a gathering of 800, the majority being in their late thirties.
He introduced himself with his cheeky British humor, “I’ve been warned about you Tampa Bay rowdies.”
His opening songs featured a combination of new and old, including songs from The Milkman of Human Kindness and the more recent tunes of his Grammy-nominated album of Woody Guthrie work, Mermaid Avenue.
Despite the initial lack of interactive singing between the audience and Bragg, the crowd was taken by his charismatic passion in every note.
Between songs, Bragg touched on life, politics and humanitarian topics. Once again entertaining the crowd with his sarcastic attitude, he suggested that the only American television station that tells the truth is The Weather Channel.
In a defining moment of the 90-minute set, the crowd joined in unison to sing the chorus to the classic “A New England.” From this harmonious point, the great majority of listeners were putty in Bragg’s working-class hands.
As a foreigner, Bragg dared to use his soapbox to delve into America’s most delicate topics with overwhelming support. While paying homage to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, he condemned President Bush’s war against terrorism. Summing up his beliefs in a new song “The Price of Oil,” Bragg accused the White House of being dictated by an economic agenda. The audience applauded when the song asked the critical question, “Why didn’t we sort this out last time?”
Deviating from political topics to passionate ballads like a true professional in “Saturday Boy,” Bragg revisited his youth as an unpopular teenager, unable to impress the schoolgirls of his dreams.
To an audience that shared common ideals of socialism, Bragg laid down his heart and mind to several hundred strangers, hoping they left with the inspiration to make a difference.
Contact Sam Baillie at email@example.com