Billy Bragg – Hammersmith Apollo

Why this gig?

Don’t be silly, it’s Billy Bragg.

Although, actually, this is the third time I’ve seen him on the Tooth and Nail tour. I can see how you might think that’s too many. I don’t agree though.

Also, it’s May Day, and that’s a pretty good day to see Billy Bragg.

Support

Support is from Seth Lakeman, who I last saw a couple of months ago. On that occasion he was rather let down by the venue. Tonight he’s much better.

Oh, and there’s another (brief) support too. When Billy Bragg first started out, he played a number of shows with Porky the Poet. Tonight he’s back to read us a few poems. These days, he’s better known as Phill Jupitus.

Headline

Bragg starts with “Sexuality”, one of his best known songs, before moving into a section where he plays a number of songs from Mermaid Avenue and Tooth and Nail. To be honest, this section of the show doesn’t really go anywhere until he plays “All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose”. This really moves the show into a higher gear and it stays there for the rest of the night.

After “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood” the rest of the band leave (“they can’t go more than half an hour without checking Twitter”, Bragg explains) and Bragg is left alone. It doesn’t stay that way for long as Phill Jupitus returns to sing a rather strange version of “Sexuality” which has been renamed “Bestiality”. Jupitus leaves the stage and Bragg starts to play a series of older songs. We get “Levis Stubbs’ Tears”, “Little Time Bomb” and (joy of joys!) “The Saturday Boy”. As a bonus, these three are all accompanied by Dave Woodhead on trumpet.

The band return and we get a few more from Tooth and Nail, a couple more Woody Guthrie songs and “Greetings to the New Brunette” before we kick up another gear with “A New England” and “Accident Waiting to Happen”. And that’s the end of the set.

But with Billy Bragg, the encores are often where the really special stuff happens – about a year ago I saw him play the whole of Life’s a Riot in a second encore. Tonight’s encore is great. We get acapella versions of “The Internationale” and “I Don’t Need That Pressure Ron” followed by “Milkman of Human Kindess” and “Power in a Union” (which is dedicated to Bob Crow).

And it doesn’t end there. The band return for a second encore which starts with “Tank Park Salute”. Bragg then invites Frank Turner onto the stage to help him sing “Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards”. Then, just as I was sure it was over, Wiggy turns up along with Phill Jupitus and the night is capped by a rousing rendition of “A13”.

I was slightly concerned about seeing this tour for the third time. I needn’t have been. Billy Bragg makes every show different enough to be really enjoyable. You should go and see him whenever you can.

The setlist is on Setlist.fm.

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