February 12, 2009
The influential poet-musician, Gil Scott-Heron, performed updated versions of his now classic repertoire before an eclectic and enthused crowd Wednesday night at New York’s S.O.B’s. Mr. Scott-Heron is perhaps best known for his ground-breaking spoken-word, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which ignited a generation (or two) of aspiring slam-poets, and continues to inform the best music of the current hip-hop literati, such as Common Sense, Mos Def and Kanye West.
The evening began with Mr. Scott-Heron opening with a monologue about Black History month and his efforts to move the month to May, due to several comical complaints in dealing with February. Perhaps this was a light counter to his more somber lyrical content, though nothing can be taken too lightly coming from a man who, with Stevie Wonder, helped advance the creation of the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.
Musically, Mr. Scott-Heron sounded a bit more gruff, (we might call this older and wiser) and has thusly surrounded himself with an array of top-notch performers as his band (particularly on keys and bass). His songs retained all of the potency and relevance as when they were written, their lyrical content ranging from war to substance abuse to being down across this country.
Despite the dark topics touched on by Mr. Scott-Heron’s set, which included new takes on the popular, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” “Winter in America,” and “The Bottle,” each of these songs were presented with a more positive swing, perhaps owing a faster more up-beat tempo. The latter song, which closed the set, was even referred to as a celebration. Mr. Scott-Heron, who is well known for infusing his music with a political edge, reinforced the feel-good atmosphere with comments alluding to the change of seasons in America, though never mentioning our newly elected President by name.
Gil Scott-Heron and his band play S.O.B.’s again tonight. He reports having negotiated a new record deal with XL Recordings, which will feature both new and updated older songs.