BILLY BRAGG at the Molson Amphitheatre, August 2. Tickets: $19-$32.50. Attendance: 7,500. Rating: NNN
the only consolation for theWeakerthans, who strode onto the Molson Amphitheatre stage Thursday to a sea of empty seats, was that co-headliners Billy Bragg and Lowest of the Low didn't play to many more people.As wildly successful as the Low's Warehouse reunion shows might have been, someone obviously overshot in thinking they could fill an outdoor shed like the Amphitheatre. On the plus side, though, the smallish crowd meant that Low singer Ron Hawkins could go out into the stands and socialize between sets without threat of being carried away by a mob.
Those who did make it down early were clearly in the Weakerthans' corner, bellowing out requests and singing along to the sharp pop songs from the Winnipeg foursome's Left & Leaving disc. Expect an even more rabid crowd when the group host the Reverb tonight (Thursday, August 9).
These are odd times for Billy Bragg. With no new record to plug -- though there is one in the can -- and the glow of the Wilco/Woody Guthrie sessions now faded, the barking bard is in a state of limbo and was left to strum through his classics solo.
Bragg is still half-comedian, half-songwriter. After waking up the crowd with a piercing sonic blast and driving through a version of The Milkman Of Human Kindness, he detoured into hilarious, rambling chatter about the Eaton Centre air conditioning, George W. and riding the roller coaster at Canada's Wonderland with Morrissey.
Old songs like Power In A Union still stood up, and while the attack and bite of his playing has softened with age, he can still get a crowd of people to sing along in fake Cockney accents to New England and Great Leap Forward.
The intensely political songwriter seems to be having more trouble staying relevant. The two new songs Bragg previewed were head-scratchingly awful, ranging from a beer commercial anthem about three-day weekends to the clumsy, fetchingly titled anti-WTO song No Power Without Accountability.
For a razor-sharp lyricist who made socialism cool in the mid-80s, crooning crudely about being sacked from your job in a fake Tex-Mex accent doesn't really cut it.