the loud bassoon concert scene

Gil Scott-Heron & Terry Callier @ Metro, Chicago, USA
11 October 1998

I wonder what Gil Scott-Heron makes of his sudden resurgence, 'cause he's really been doing the same thing the whole time. Laying down the message and never denying the groove. His career has had some peaks and plateaus, but really he seems always to be doing his missionary work with no particular acknowledgement of musical or cultural trends.

He's enjoyed about the same level of popularity in the black community ever since he hit the scene as a black arts poet and kicked the bullshit back at mainstream USA with cuts like "Whitey on the Moon" and "The Revolution will Not Be Televised."

Whitey himself, however, has only turned Gil's way intermittently over the years, usually in the form of pretentious college kids like myself.

To throw in my necessary "I was there first," I must say that when I got into Gil Scott-Heron (this was back in '90) there was no pop culture hipness attached to him, and no critical assessment available. What a difference a decade makes … nowadays the majority of his back catalog can be found on CD, and all sorts of Whitey magazines are falling all over themselves to throw up props to Gil for "influencing rap" and whatnot.

Of course, I'm not the only Whitey to "discover" Gil Scott-Heron "first," and plenty of us turned out to see the man in action at Chicago's Metro for a booty-shakin' extravaganza of funk-ass funk-assin'.

Terry Callier opened up with a tight band featuring Callier on guitar and vox, augmented by percussion, electric guitar, bass, and sax/flute. I'd heard much about Callier's supposedly great music and had been bombarded with much hype about this "Chicago favorite" returning to the scene.

And I must say, he rocked my sweaty ass all the way back to like 1968. I was most impressed and will certainly seek out his albums, though not the new one 'cuz I've heard it's pretty lousy. And man, I believe everything I hear … NOT! (Points added for hopelessly uncool reference, but detracted for lazy approach to "humor.")

Perfect opening act, left the crowd wanting more … not something you find in a support act very often. Funky blend of folk and jazz a la Richie Havens and Marvin Gaye having a kid, but minus the unpleasant image of Richie Havens and Marvin Gaye having sex, to say nothing of the image of a pregnant Richie Havens.

Gil's bass player came out next and did a couple minutes solo, riffing on "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and a few other tunes. The tone was set … there would be none of the politicizin' "Re-Ron" Gil tonite. They was gonna make us dance. Gil's band then came out (The Amnesia Express), including Brian Jackson on keys, plus bass, guitar, two percussionists, and Gil himself on Fender Rhodes. Memory puts a flute player up there, but I was on so much recreational anti-diarrheal (RAD) who really knows?

All I remember is they funked my shakable hullaballoo with all their might. Much soloing and song lengths that ran upwards of 27 minutes, all of it essential, not a minute wasted. They played virtually nothing I recognized (and I consider myself a fan), but I do remember "The Bottle" at least.

Gil was in fine form, bounding up and down and laying down the law. The guitarist in particular rocked my sweaty ass (and I hate guitarists), playing a right-handed guitar left-handed a la Freddie King. Smokin'.

The big treat was watching Brian Jackson, clad in Polo shirt and looking uncannily like Bobby McFerrin. After a glitch which rendered his synth soundless for the first few minutes (blame the Whitey sound guy who probably wouldn't have fucked up a Screaming Trees show), he was in full effect for the whole show.

And it was his birthday, too bad I didn't bring a cake. My mom makes this great two-tiered birthday cake with vanilla frosting and a perfect image of Gil's 1980 album on the top tier. I don't know how she does it (or why) but it'd have been perfect.

They played for over two hours without pause, I almost thought they (or I) would drop dead of multiple heart attacks. Fuckin' great show. Too bad the masses will never really "get" Gil Scott-Heron, 'cause he's health food for the mind and the ass.

The only way I can think of to bring him to superstar status would be a weekly variety show in which Gil would perform his songs and appear in comical sketches like in "Hee Haw." I can already see the headline in Variety: "REVOLUTION TO BE TELEVISED."

Review by Adrienne Doublestack