Unlike Dylan (who stood motionless during his entire hourlong set and didn't utter a single word to the thousands who'd gathered to see him), the 53-year-old Bragg actually engaged with the audience ("If you think Obama's as bad as Bush, you've got a very short memory") and stuck, smartly, to his first and best three albums (1983-1986) and "Mermaid Avenue," his 1998 collaboration with Wilco on 15 previously unreleased Woody Guthrie songs. (Also unlike Dylan, Bragg's voice was in great condition, and he actually seemed to enjoy being on stage.)
Bragg can be a bit of a Marxist cartoon. In the middle of his set, he launched into a version of Bob Marley's "One Love" with the chorus reworked to be about African debt. ("One love/one heart/let's drop the debt/and it'll be all right." Cringeworthy as that is, it was nothing compared to the lengthy audience singalong, complete with hand gestures (thumbs down: "drop the debt"; thumbs up: "it'll be all right.") I guess the song was perfect for last night's crowd, though, because almost everyone sang along---as if singing loud enough, and gesturing earnestly enough, would actually impact the global north's policy in Africa.
(Lest you think this was an aberration, an unsuccessful tryout of unfortunate new material, think again: Youtube says he's been doing "One Love" since at least 2007.)
But Bragg redeemed himself, of course, by finishing with an encore of "A New England." This time, I couldn't resist singing along.