"If you want to learn something new about yourself, just put out a new CD," Gil Scott-Heron quipped to the sold-out crowd Saturday at the Tin Angel.

"I read where I had 'disappeared.' Do you know how great that would be? You're out with the wrong lady, you see her boyfriend, and you just disappear."

Making himself vanish may not be among Scott-Heron's manifold talents, but for a while he seemed to be giving it his best shot.

I'm New Here, released this year, ended a 16-year gap between his albums, a period during which he was twice jailed on drug-related charges and lived in a crack house for a time. The man whose spoken-word anthem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," was one of the foundational texts of socially conscious hip-hop seemed to have drifted into the life he had helped so many others avoid.

Or perhaps that's just what it said in the papers.

Throughout the course of his set, Scott-Heron returned several times to the subject of his press clippings, sounding more bemused than outraged.

While I'm New Here has a substantial dark side, including a cover of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil," Scott-Heron steered clear of his new material, preferring the vintage lyricism of "Winter in America" and "Pieces of a Man."

Accompanying himself at first on electric piano and later joined by a quartet whose members have been working with him for decades, Scott-Heron stretched out during songs and between them.

Sometimes, his introductions were longer than the songs they prefaced, winding monologues that mixed offhand profundities and hopelessly cornball jokes about Amish drive-bys and midgets. He led up to "Is That Jazz?" with a profane and apocryphal anecdote about the word's origin poised somewhere between a folk myth and a shaggy-dog story.

With a late show to follow that evening and two more the next night, perhaps Scott-Heron was pacing himself. He managed only eight songs in a nearly 90-minute set, not counting a long instrumental by keyboardist Kim Jackson.

The relaxed atmosphere let Scott-Heron's wit and personality shine, but it also undermined the intensity of songs like the opening "Blue Collar," whose refrain of "You can't name where I ain't been down" followed not longer after a joke involving a car accident and a dwarf. The revolution may not be on television, but it now comes with a laugh track.