follows me on twitter will know the Gil Scott-Heron vs volcanic ash saga. The long-awaited concert on Tuesday night at the Southbank Centre in London was cancelled and he had another gig scheduled for last night but it was long sold out. Happily some tickets came up on Seatwave yesterday so, a last-minute £50 purchase later, off I went to my back row seat.
It was a very bizarre show. Gil's music has always been fairly intense and his recent album I'm New Here compounds that, with its mournful time-of-life feel and pared back production, with Gil in reflective melancholy mode. I like a bit of intensity in my music so was looking forward to the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
As I was on the back row, I was already a bit challenged in terms of atmosphere but when Gil came on to a standing ovation looking dapper, with his voice clear and crisp (the sound was great), I sat back to enjoy the treat ahead. But bizarrely, he started with an impromptu stand-up comedy routine, telling jokes for ten minutes. He only sat at his keyboard when someone heckled him to play music. Was he nervous?
Then, even more bizarrely, anti-Israel protesters around the auditorium started heckling about Gil's upcoming concert in Tel Aviv, shouting loudly and dumping leaflets over the balcony.
Ignoring the chaos - 'You travel 4,000 miles and still you encounter assholes' – unaccompanied on keyboard, he was in great voice and we were treated to Winter In America and a couple of songs I literally couldn't hear, because all around me protesters were shouting, audience members were screaming at the protesters and, bizarrely, security stood back watching but saying they couldn't do anything.
I guess as a protester himself it was in the spirit of Gil, but having paid £50 to watch this circus was pretty frustrating. Gil's pianist did a solo as he took a break and then came back on, apparently having been informed of what people were shouting about, to say he wasn't doing a show in Tel Aviv after all and asking the protesters, 'Let me know when you have a concert, so I can come and shout all the way through yours'.
During a beautiful We Almost Lost Detroit his backing pianist Kim Jordan came on. Another special highlight was Pieces of A Man, but I felt these highlights were too few and far between, peppered with an exceptionally long performance of a song from Kim's new CD, and a very long bongo solo.
He finished up with a long jam on The Bottle. Special, and great to see the man in splendid humour. (At one point he said, 'People refer to me being unhappy. Let me tell you, when you leave prison there's one thing you ain't. And that is unhappy.')
But compared to, say, this live version of Home Is Where the Hatred Is, I feel pretty shortchanged. And I could've done without the protesting idiots and their complete lack of respect for both the artist and the fact I'd shelled out fifty bleeding quid to listen to them screaming. Wankers.
[Psst: Larry David was spotted in the front row at the gig. See my twitter timeline for a twitpic.]