But there are plenty of reasons why Bragg's September 11 visit to the Ark has sold out. Though his last two albums have been uneven, a Bragg gig has always been more than a concert: it's part rally, part benefit, part forum. That's even truer now that Bragg has evolved into a public intellectual and author of some stature in Britain. Seeing him today is a bit like going to a talk by Gloria Steinem or Cornel West. He's likely to chat between songs about this year's British election results and about Jail Guitar Doors, a charity he founded that donates guitars to prison inmates for rehabilitation and music therapy.
He's also likely to perform "I Keep Faith," the best song from his 2008 album, Mr. Love and Justice, in which he confronts the challenges of romantic and political commitment. He could be singing to his partner or to anyone who shares his belief in social change: "If your dreams should come to nothing/Washed out in the rain/Let me rekindle all your hopes/And help you start again." Bragg, twenty-seven years into his career, has kept faith, thinking harder than anyone else about the limits and possibilities of mixing pop and politics. He is the purest musical conscience of his generation, and by conscience I mean the song in your head that reminds you what you believe in.
[Originally published in September, 2010.]