ROCK / And finally . . . bringing up baby the Ice-T way

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THERE is more than a hint of pantomime about Ice-T's speed-metal band Body Count; in the 'police line - do not cross' sash around the drumkit, in rhythm guitarist D-Roc's mask, borrowed from Jason in Friday the Thirteenth. But their message is deadly serious. 'Don't they know rock's just for whites?' Ice asks in the impeccably titled 'There Goes the Neighbourhood'. If his group's aims were solely political - to put to the pistol the absurd notion that any music, let alone the sort that Jimi Hendrix invented, can be purely anything - they would still be worth a listen. But Body Count are also entertainers.

A happily heterogeneous crowd does not quite fill the Brixton Academy, but makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in numbers. Ice (born Tracey Marrow; like Big Daddy and John Wayne before him, a tough-guy icon sent into a man's world with a girl's name) makes a vivacious master of ceremonies. He wisely removes the bobble hat that so dilutes his capacity for menace, and performs bare-chested throughout. The advancing years have done some damage to his muscle-tone but Ice still cuts an imposing dash, and when he shakes out his ponytail and fluffs it into a halo, the effect

is truly scary. But tonight this man is far from the cat- burgling demon of legend; he is (whisper it softly) a pussycat.

The churning riffs of songs with titles such as 'KKK Bitch' and 'Evil Dick' are punctuated with long, sincere lectures about bringing up children in a proper atmosphere of racial tolerance, and confessions that Ice enjoys holding women's hands. There is even a sniff of religion in the bizarre 'Murder by Death' (a close, but frankly, poor relation of Motorhead's immortal 'Killed by Death'), with Mr T solemnly crossing himself as he proclaims, 'In the end we will all fall victim to the ultimate assassin, whose name is God'. It does not take a genius to realise that this man is having a laugh. He also gives a great press conference. German radio journalist: Would you use words like 'motherfucker' at home in front of

your wife and son? Ice-T: Yes.

Like the LA punk bands he used to sneak in to see as a youngster, Ice has a firm grasp of bathos. His cartoon sensibility and ghoulish sense of humour enable him to say things about people trying to get along together which would cause other hardcore rappers to suffer a drastic credibility loss. The best example of this is 'Momma's Gotta Die Tonight', a novel twist on 'I blame the parents', in which our hero realises that his mother has brought him up to be prejudiced, and kills her.

It's only Ice's dick-centricity that stops him being the ideal liberal; that's probably why he still hangs on to it, as it were. But tonight his phallus- fixation goes so far it starts to look like satire. When he breaks off from the aforementioned 'Evil Dick' to conduct a lengthy dialogue with the aforementioned organ, even the most dyed-in-the-wool macho idiots in the house are starting to look slightly uncomfortable.

Ice-T is not the only great black American polemicist to hit town over the festive season. But Gil Scott-Heron's arrival at the Jazz Cafe is delayed by snow. In the dread distant Eighties this might have been a drugs reference. Now it only means a four-hour hold-up on his flight from New York. This is odd in itself, because Scott- Heron has played in London so many times over the past year that I thought he must live here. At last he breezes in through the front door, and to the cheers of a relieved crowd. Between grey beard and blue hat his well-worn face creases into a grin; he moves with the languid gait of an elongated Gerry Anderson puppet.

He starts his set, seated alone at the electric piano, with 'South Carolina': a vintage piece of rhetoric from his golden era in the early/mid-Seventies. The general rule with Scott-Heron is that any song that has a proper name in its title will be a classic, and any that doesn't won't. Except 'The Bottle'. 'The Military and the Monetary' also bucks the trend on this occasion and, better still, sounds like a new song - a real rarity for Gil over the past decade or so. The lyric starts off as turgid conspiracy theory, but accelerates into the cascading wordplay that was always his forte: 'They could take the dignity out of dignitary but not the bitch out of obituary . . . there were some smart bombs, but there were some dumb ones too.'

There's not been much to dance to so far. But just as the first beached hedonist emits a strangled cry of 'Music]', the band hove into view. There has often been cause to suspect that The Amnesia Express are so- called because you want to forget them as quickly as possible, but the presence of distinguished guest saxophonist Steve Williamson peps them up a lot tonight. They still lapse into some criminal dawdling towards the end though, which is also what I'm doing. This is the last of my weekly rock columns; Sting and Eric Clapton are coming round again, and I want to spend more time with my family.

Ben Thompson will be returning shortly, as our comedy critic.