Spoken-Word Legend Gil Scott-Heron Goes All Pensive Poet in Tempe on MLK Day

(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.

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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."

Critic's Notebook:

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."

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