Billy Bragg’s second performance as part of his short residency The Wedge was always going to be a change in gear from his usual setlist.
This middle night of the three was to focus on his first three albums.
The sold-out crowd was treated to some memorable performances of material Bragg recorded more than three decades ago, but the overall atmosphere seemed oddly subdued compared to the previous evening.
The formula that had worked so well on the first night of humour, politics, and music, was reconfigured here to allow for a greater sense of nostalgia.
Early in the evening Bragg’s amiable forgetfulness led to fragmented performances of songs that the audience clearly cherished. It’s fair to say that the performance was by design, or because these are the opening shows of his UK tour, rusty. Bragg was honest about his approach and added some interesting stories of his early career to provide context including delivering a mushroom biryani to John Peel. What was missing amid the nostalgia for the first three-quarters of the show was any hint of the politics that Bragg uses to invigorate his crowds.
Once he’d added political commentary the show picked up pace and felt less ambling and more purposeful. It would have been difficult for an audience to not be pleased with There Is Power In A Union, and a crowd member playing guitar for A New England, as the show drew to a close. As a trip down memory lane this was an honest retelling of old stories and songs without feeling self-congratulatory.