If the term “folk music” still makes you think of baby boomers getting bleary-eyed over Peter, Paul and Mary, you probably haven’t been listening to Billy Bragg or Michelle Shocked. Sounding vaguely like Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie filtered through the Clash, Billy Bragg sets his tough agitprop and coarsely moving ballads against an electronic guitar sound (usually unaccompanied) that shoots sparks every which way but right. Depending upon whether you get your cultural information from the Revolutionary Worker or the National Review, Bragg is either the reigning social conscience of British pop or a preachy pinko crank with a throat condition. While he may be preachy, he’s never dull. When I saw him perform on the west coast last week, he combined a terrific set of songs with a large number of political announcements, a voter registration drive, and even his own version of the Socialist Comedy Hour. Bragg’s politics are often most acute when they’re the most personal, especially on “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” one of the very few songs that have anything interesting to say about how music affects ordinary people’s lives. Equally likely to defy expectations is Michelle Shocked, who will open for Bragg. While her stage name may make you suspect that she’s some sort of shrieking punkette, she is in fact a west Texas folk troubadour with a great knack for story telling. Her Texas Campfire Tapes must rank as the best major-label album ever recorded entirely on a Sony Walkman. Tonight, 7:30 PM, Cabaret Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Adrian Boot.