Gil Scott-Heron w/Zin Sunday, May 3rd, 2009 Fox Theatre, Boulder Better Than: The actual extended winter in America.
When I got to the Fox, Zin played a set of funk and jazz mixed with soulful, hip-hop-inflected R&B. While the act sounded a bit like a jam band, with the requisite self-indulgence and infused with what came off as genuine positive energy. I'm not sure if this outfit was connected in any way to the konpa group from Brooklyn. It didn't sound like it.
When Gil Scott-Heron took the stage, he opened with an amusing anecdote about how he needed to catch a plane out of Durango to make the gig to Boulder, only to have to land in Colorado Springs and drive to The Blue Note just in time for the show. Afterward he sat down and played two songs alone with just his electronic piano. But Gil needed little else to put on an emotionally stirring show.
The Amnesia Express -- Gil joked that he couldn't remember why the band was called that -- came on stage for the third song. Together, the band and Scott-Heron flawlessly incorporated elements of blues, jazz-fusion, traditional jazz, free jazz, lounge, calypso and R&B into a seamless whole, trading out bits and pieces as suited for each particular song. Some unenlightened types might have heard a lot of smooth jazz, but there was no denying that Gil brought an emotional depth, his native playfulness and good spirits to the proceedings. Where the other musicians mainly laid out gentle atmospheres that could escalate into blazingly intense passages, all with the expertise of studio musicians, Gil's voice had enough grit to completely dispel any notion that this band belonged on some tepid jazz lite station.
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This show drew a surprising amount from the later albums, as well as an especially impassioned version of "The Other Side (Parts I and II)," the sequel to "Home is Where the Hatred Is." (Gil joked about how the song was on two albums). The show was split into two parts, with an intermission between "Better Days Ahead" and "Three Miles Down." The second half was clearly a showcase for how tight a band we were getting to see behind Scott-Heron. Most of the band has been playing with Gil for around twenty years, and a more solid line-up for any band of this type would have been hard to imagine. The twenty-plus minute take of the classic, "The Bottle," which closed the show, didn't drag for a moment. The encore was surprisingly short, but it ended the night on a positive note with Gil reminding us,"Stay up, keep your spirit strong."
Setlist 1. 95 South (All the Places We've Been) - Bridges 2. We Almost Lost Detroit - Bridges 3. unknown, possibly new 4. Your Daddy Loves You - Winter in America 5. poetic interlude 6. Winter in America - Winter in America 7. Better Days Ahead - Secrets 8. Three Miles Down - Secrets 9. Did You Hear What They Said? - Free Will 10. The Other Side (Parts I and II) - Spirits 11. The Bottle - Winter in America
Encore 1. Don't Give Up (?) - Spirits
Bias: To me, Gil Scott-Heron is one of the most important figures in modern music history. Random Detail: Ed Brady, Amnesia Express' guitarist, played through a Roland JC-120 By the Way: Gil Scott-Heron should have a new album out at the end of summer. Hopefully with a tour to follow up its release.