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PERFORMANCE REVIEW : A Well-Versed Foursome

March 02, 1994|ROBERT LEVINE

It's ironic that the man who wrote "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" would headline the "Free Your Mind Spoken Word Tour"--a road show sponsored by television force MTV. Nevertheless, Gil Scott-Heron's politicized urban poetry fit in well at the Troubadour on Monday, in a four-artist show that emphasized the performance of verse as well as its content.

Playing a keyboard and backed by a percussionist, Scott-Heron--an influential veteran whose '70s records were a precursor of rap--sang rather than spoke for almost all of his set. Purists might gripe that this set-up was hardly the essence of spoken word, but it was hard to argue with the poignancy his playing brought to such songs as "Winter in America," or with the soulful groove he created.

The influence of rap on the spoken word genre was especially apparent during a powerful set by New York-based poet Reg E. Gaines, who used hip-hop's style and urgency to perform pieces about issues such as urban violence.

Leading a three-piece band and prowling around the stage with the energy of a punk rocker, Maggie Estep--one of the most high-profile figures on the poetry-reading scene--spoke, sang and screamed poems that combined the personal and the political with a cynical, razor-sharp wit.

John S. Hall, singer for the alternative rock band King Missile, performed his work more traditionally, using backing drums on only two numbers. He read absurdist short pieces as well as lyrics to King Missile songs in a deadpan tone that made his dark humor all the more affecting.

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