What you get here is a carefully chosen cross section of his back catalogue. From "There is Power In A Union" and "Between The Wars" of the Thatcher Years to the more personal political poetry of "Sexuality" and "Valentines Day is Over" from the Bliar Era - all given the Americana / Country treatment that so many blinkered critics have taken him to task for. I'm not sure why - CJ Hillman's exquisite Pedal Steel and bottleneck National Steel guitar work are second to none, and perfectly matched with Billy's songs. As Bragg points out, there's the added bonus that the American can also pick up a Fender or Gibson and do a fine "Johnny Marr impersonation" for the rockier numbers. On the DVD you get some humorous and insightful commentary from the singer interspersed between the songs, as well as his increasingly droll and relaxed banter with the audience at the gig. Bragg's occasional sermons are laced with an endearing self-deprecating humour and an openness to the ideas of others, both of which give greater resonance to what he's saying. Most of the chit-chat is thankfully edited out for the CD.
What Bragg is saying is as relevant now in Cameron's Britain and Abbott's Australia as it ever was thirty years ago. Perhaps more so with the growth of inequity that we have seen open up. He speaks up for the downtrodden, pricks the bubble of the high and mighty and tries to inspire his audience to activism in the face of this ever-expanding inequity. He reckons that our major enemy is cynicism. His clever way with words and humorous insights, and his relentless optimism that "There Will Be a Reckoning" and "All You Fascists Bound To Lose" are powerful antidotes to such cynicism taking hold. The latter is one of three Woody Guthrie songs that are so wonderfully re-imagined here by Bragg and his comrades - the other two being "Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key" and the sad story of thirties dispossession at the hands of the Banks, "I Ain't Got No Home".
With Bragg there is no real boundary between the personal and the political - his song about the Hillsborough disaster which killed 96 Liverpool Football fans, "Never Buy The Sun", is as pithy a put-down of the execrable Murdoch Press and the British Establishment as you'll hear anywhere, and obviously heartfelt. "Do Unto Others" is an attempt at a distillation of what is necessary to live the Ethical Life, given a certain extra resonance by the ecclesiastical setting. The tear jerker "Tank Park Salute" pays tender homage to his dad - as does the amusing "Handyman Blues" in its own way - and then we are into the timeless rambunctious encore "Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards".
As a one of several bonuses on the DVD we are treated to the second encore, just Billy and his electric guitar revisiting the whole seventeen minutes of his very first vinyl record "Life's A Riot & Spy vs Spy" with classics such as "The Man In The Iron Mask", "The Milkman of Human Kindness" and "A New England" all rattled off in fine fettle. For the audio version unfortunately you have to shell out another few bucks for the official 30th Anniversary ReMastered Reissue - as the man says, "the Revolution is just a T-shirt away". And there's probably a T-Shirt of that at billybragg.co.uk