Spoken-word pioneer Gil Scott-Heron, who always travels in his own time zone, finally made it to the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis -- 17 days and 32 minutes later than originally scheduled.
Before a full house on Wednesday, he didn't duck his 11th-hour cancellation of a March 28 date at the club. "For those of you who were here before, I decided not to join you that night," he joked. He also explained that his flight from New York was delayed that day and then his rescheduled connecting flight was overbooked.
"For those of you who bet that I wouldn't be on time tonight," he said, "you were right."
Nonetheless, it was worth the wait. Scott-Heron, 61, is a special cultural commentator. For the first 20 minutes of Wednesday's first set, he talked -- his version of intellectual stoner comedy (if that's not an oxymoron). He recalled his wife asking for money to get a permanent for her hair; then three weeks later, she requested money for another permanent. Said Scott-Heron: "A 'permanent' should be called a 'temporary.' It don't work permanently."
Scott-Heron is obsessed with words and their meaning and interpretations. A published novelist, he holds a master's degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. Wordplay is as integral to his performance as social commentary.
Scott-Heron is often called a hip-hop pioneer or the godfather of rap. Those sobriquets may apply because his lyrics examine real-life situations and issues, but his vibe is more Jesse Jackson than Jay-Z. Scott-Heron is not about beats and flow. He's more about delivering a message, whether he talks over jazzy piano vamps or sings in a distinctive nasally rasp.
After his opening comedy bit, he offered 75 minutes of music, sometimes solo at an electric piano, other times accompanied by three other musicians. Whether he was singing about a voter-registration advocate for Mississippi sharecroppers or working for peace, his voice had a cutting, raw urgency. The band added warmth, dimension and texture to smooth Scott-Heron's rough edges.
At times, the singer, who has been known for his battles with booze and drugs, seemed to carry on in a meandering manner, especially on the closing 1976 classic "The Bottle," which was more celebratory than penetrating this time around. But he was all about enjoying himself and the crowd doing the same. His playfulness between songs tempered the seriousness of his lyrics. For instance, he made fun of critics' reviews of his excellent new album, "I'm New Here," his first in 16 years (and this non-careerist didn't even do one selection from it.) From the reviews, he joked, "I found out that I had disappeared."
His reappearance at the Dakota -- despite the tardiness -- was intellectually and spiritually nourishing entertainment.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719