Billy Bragg - Cedar Court Patio, Austin, TX
The last time Billy Bragg was at SXSW was in 1998, at the time of the release of Mermaid Avenue, his first joint venture with Wilco to bring to light unrecorded songs written by Woody Guthrie. This time around he is here to promote the box set of his first four albums, Billy Bragg Volume 2. And a busy time he had. On Thursday he played his entire first album, in seventeen minutes, as part of a Radio 2 barbecue outside the main convention centre. Earlier today he had performance at Soup by Southwest, a charity event for Austin's homeless, and been interviewed as part of music conference and done a book signing session. Tonight he played on three tracks with the band that preceded his show, the Klezmatics who have also recorded some of Woody Guthrie's unheard songs.
Despite all this he had plenty of energy for playing his own show. As a solo performer he travels light and there was no messing about with sound checks. Five minutes after the Klezmatics had left the stage he was striking the opening chords of the Milkman of Human Kindness. He explained that he had been interviewed earlier in the day so he wasn't going to talk politics, just sing the songs. He played for about forty-five minutes, focusing on the early songs but finding time for a new song, I Keep Faith, which he explained was about America.
All the songs were met with cheers and applause, none more so than Help Save the Youth of America. His final song was a rocking version of A New England with the audience singing the choruses and the third verse "for Kirsty". For an encore he was joined by the Klezmatics for a Woody Guthrie song, All You Fascists Bound To Lose.
Perhaps Bragg's political views would not find favour elsewhere in Texas but in laid-back Austin, the self-styled capital of the weird, he found plenty of like minds. Let's hope it is not another eight years before he returns.