On March 13, 2013, a new Pope was chosen, so of course Billy Bragg, playing a set in a church, took the opportunity to throw down a few good one liners for the occasion. ”The new Pope is Argentinian … I detect the hand of God.” After some laughter, he added, “Oh good, there’s some English people here,” adding in a dig at the version of football where you don’t use your feet. Ever the quick wit, Bragg seized upon the theme of religion and ran with it for the duration of the evening, asking if there was a vicar in the back doing sound and also noting that his new album “fittingly deals with redemption and the difficulties in maintaining long distance relationships.” His wit was also on display in a few SXSW-inspired hipster jokes (“these beards also come in vintage”) and in new song “Handyman Blues” with the lyrics “I’m no good at pottery/so let’s lose the T and shift back the E,” adding, “See what I did there?” immediately afterwards. We saw, Billy. Clever. He followed that song up with a slower, stripped down arrangement of “Shirley,” which he introduced by saying, “If that guy sounds familiar, here he was 25 years ago.”
Noting that he’s not one for organized religion, but respectful of those who are, Bragg mentioned that he was asked to write a song for the anniversary of the King James bible and that he wanted to write about “one of those books in the Old Testament with Jesus Christ being a socialist.” He also played a version of Woody Guthrie’s ”I Ain’t Got No Home,” which he said could have been written any time in the last five years, but which was actually written over 70 years ago. Other highlights included a reworked version of “The Great Leap Forward” updated with references to X Factor, the Occupy Movement and Pussy Riot as well as the last song of his set, which he introduced as “perhaps the most religious song I know,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’.” A good reminder that no matter how bad things may get, there’s always hope for the future.