Sometimes it’s funny, that what you expect from an artist and what you actually get are totally different things. I mean, most of the time personalities are replicated through work – Damien Hirst makes prickish art and is a prick, David Lynch is odd and creepy and he makes odd and creepy films, etc. – but occasionally this doesn’t happen.
Take Gil Scott Heron for example. His new album, the first after his release from prison due to crack cocaine offences, is a running narrative of pained, damaged and heartfelt blues-inflected spoken word, underscored by dark, brooding beats reminiscent of old DJ Shadow or Portishead but stripped down and hollowed out. It’s powerful in its minimalism and inextricably draws you in to this man’s soul, stripping bare his traumas to shocking yet moving effect.
When I saw him the other night though he had an entirely different effect on me. His first three tracks were what I expected (and when he first released – I don’t use the word lightly – his voice, it was a real revelation – utterly mesmerising) but as he was slowly joined by more and more backing musicians, adding bongos, tenor sax, flute, harmonica and electric keyboard (complete with synthesised vocal and string effects, cringe), the tone changed and became a celebratory, hand-clapping, Jools Holland-friendly set of uplifting Boogie-Woogie. The musicians were all technically proficient and energy levels soared but hang on, this wasn’t what I’d come for. Where was the anger, the pain, the suffering? Where was the stripped back, held down, tell it like it is in the ghetto shit? Where was the cool?
Maybe who he is and what music he makes change, like all of us, from time to time. Maybe up on stage he wanted to enjoy his fame, bask in the limelight and not drown himself in the introspective, embittered nature of his recent recorded work. Which is fair enough. But I know what I prefer.