With Jill Sobule
At: the Somerville Theatre, Thursday night
SOMERVILLE -- Billy Bragg isn't short of material for his next album. The musician and activist aired a handful of new songs during his entertaining and thought-provoking solo performance at the Somerville Theatre on Thursday night. Most were so new that he hadn't fleshed out tunes or learned the words, which he read from scraps of paper placed on a music stand.
Bragg warmed up with his beloved protest folk, interspersed with twee love songs such as ''Greetings to the New Brunette" and Woody Guthrie's comically lusty ''Ingrid Bergman." His Stubbs BBQ T-shirt was a tell-tale sign that this 48-year-old punk-folk avatar had attended the recent South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, where he performed and was a featured speaker.
''The tea in Texas is [expletive]," he said between sips from his customary steaming hot ''cuppa." ''It had ice in it. Next time I see a Texan in England I'm going to give him a boiling Pepsi."
He segued from the traditional English murder ballad ''John Barleycorn" to his racial discourse, ''England, Half English." His political lambast ''The Wolf Covers Its Tracks" was haunting.
But then came the Bragg buzz kill that separated the thinkers from the shrinkers. It was a solemn new song, more of a free-form poem at this stage, called ''My Name is Rachel Corrie." It told the true story of a young American girl, killed by Israeli bulldozers in Gaza, as she stood in defense of Palestinian refugees.
But Bragg bounced back with a brilliant country version of the Who's ''Pinball Wizard," sung in a Johnny Cash-style baritone. He ended with another new song, this time a rousing folk blues stab at government, which reconfigured Leadbelly's ''Bourgeois Blues" as ''Bushwar Blues" and featured some handsome slide guitar playing.
Impish singer-songwriter Jill Sobule peppered her sharp opening set with humor, noisy electric guitar jams, and her '90s hit, ''I Kissed a Girl."