Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, May 18

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Friday Quick Links Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements Returns »

Review Sun Jun 24 2012

Review: Billy Bragg @ Old Town School of Folk Music, 6/22


(Photos by Joshua Mellin)

I am generally turned off by musicians who spend more time chatting than singing at shows. But I could've listened to at least another hour of Billy Bragg talking about Woody Guthrie (now a century old) at Old Town School of Folk Music on Friday. On his current tour, Bragg is splitting shows with Guthrie's songs (many of which he recorded with Wilco during the Mermaid Avenue sessions) followed by his own material. Armed with only an acoustic guitar at the start, Bragg spent as much time playing Guthrie's songs as talking about the legendary folk singer, his impact on successors and the process of putting music to words left on thousands of pages. He noted early on that Guthrie, like himself, wasn't trained as a music writer. (At this point, Bragg said that he can read a lyric he wrote as a teenager and instantly recall how he wanted it to sound.) Guthrie's lyrical layouts and footnotes were guides, but Bragg's melodies are still guesses. Lost are the tunes passed down through generations, from those that his grandmother taught him ("The Unwelcome Ghost") to what he learned by osmosis while scraping by in the Texas panhandle ("Don't You Marry", which was jokingly implied to have been learned from Robert Johnson) to others with unknown origins ("Black Wind Blowing"). But every story was a history lesson that captivated the audience. He talked about Jay Bennett's extensive influence on Mermaid Avenue, especially on "Another Man's Done Gone" (presumably written while Guthrie knew death was inevitable) with Jeff Tweedy pumping raw emotion into the vocals. When he mentioned that a particular line was the catalyst for wanting to record a song (or to research the song's origins further), it was almost like everyone made a mental note for when he sang the line. It was fascinating to hear him present songs and stories for which he's very passionate about, and for them to be received so warmly.


After a brief intermission, Billy Bragg strapped on an electric guitar and delivered a set of his own songs. "The Short Answer" made clear immediately that this would not be the same as the first set. The hoots and hollers of recognition drowned out the first few words. His political banter increased considerably. A brief aside about a soccer match between Germany and Greece earlier in the day, and its metaphorical significance in Europe's current economy, sputtered out of control when it became about American football vs. soccer. (A gentleman behind me heckled an American football supporter by saying, "At least you use your feet [in soccer]." I have no idea what that meant.)

Maybe the most notable part of the second set was Bragg talking about the power of live music and why he continues to play. "Never Buy the Sun", a scathing attack on the UK tabloid's phone-hacking scandal, was exhibit #1 when he discussed the first time he played it (within a week of the scandal breaking) and the audience's spontaneous applause. He very succinctly put how live music performance, especially by someone who's political, has the power to make people realize that they're far from alone in how they feel about an issue while reminding us that musicians do not make change, so it's left to audiences to do so. However, strangely, soon after that he ended the evening with a singalong about incontinence that had many people turning an eyebrow and saying or thinking, "He's not going to close with one of his hits?" It was an odd choice to end 2+ hours of music. Fortunately, those 2+ hours held plenty of moments to overcome the ending and hopefully gave everyone a newly deserved appreciation for Woody Guthrie.


GB store

RK / July 4, 2012 11:18 AM

On the "Never Buy the Sun" song -- this blog has some good context (including responses in the comments)

GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store


Featured Series


Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.

About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks,
Transmission staff inbox:



Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15