Spoken-Word Legend Gil Scott-Heron Goes All Pensive Poet in Tempe on MLK Day
Adam Turner Gil Scott-Heron
(Gil Scott-Heron performed sets at 6:30 and 9 p.m. last night. This is a review of the earlier offering presented by Ed Mabrey and Black Pearl Poetry.)
He appeared jittery as he walked onstage, but once Gil Scott-Heron sat down and started playing keys and singing the blues about life getting folks down, it was on. For the next hour and a half, the 60-year old interpreted a number of solo and accompanied ditties about coal mining, the roots of jazz, and Fannie Lou Hamer (the late civil rights leader that's oft-attributed with the quote, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired"). By set's end, there was no question that he's still got it.
Throughout the mind-expanding poet's gig inside of one of MADCAP Theatres' cozy spaces, Scott-Heron chose pensive storytelling, positive vibes, and humor over the streetwise-heavy "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "The Bottle," and "Johannesburg" that he's revered for. Decked out in all black threads and a grey wool cap, the set's best-delivered tune was "Winter in America," a piece (which is also the title of his 1974 album with Brian Jackson), according to Scott-Heron, is based on an old African folktale. Delivered by Scott-Heron's gruff voice weathered by a hard life that's included multiple stints in jail for drug possession, the song - a mixture of spoken-word poetry and soul-singing interludes that showcased a nice ode to Roy Ayers' "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" - chronicled how the cold season doesn't get any love in popular song like spring and summer do.
Keyboardist Kim Jordan joined him during "We Almost Lost Detroit" - a tune sampled by Common in "The People" - and her sharp touches worked well with Heron's bluesy élan. After that, harmonica player/clapping cheerleader Tony Duncan and percussionist Glen Turner joined in. This is where hiccups occurred because the foursome never seemed quite comfortable and frequently got out of sync.
Despite some minor slipups, the night featured all sorts of take-home-with-you moments, such as this spoken-word blast during "We Almost Lost Detroit": "The military and the monetary/They get together whenever they think it's necessary/They turn our brothers and sisters into mercenaries . . . They turn the dignities into dignitaries/They took the secret from the secretaries/They took the honor from the honoraries/And left the bitch in obituaries."
Last Night: Gil Scott-Heron at MADCAP Theatres.
Better Than: Arizona, circa 1987, which is when the state was high on the bigot radar, no thanks to former governor Evan Mecham's cancellation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Personal Bias: As a Phoenix-area native with strong memories of Mecham's nonsense, I was thrilled that Gil Scott-Heron posted up in my hometown on a federally recognized holiday that he and Stevie Wonder made happen.
Random Detail: If you want a guaranteed good time at a show, go with Luis Daniel Gutierrez.
Further Listening/Watching: No doubt about it: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."