When you think of Lauryn Hill, many images come to mind. For many, it’s this:
For others, it’s this:
Yes, when I was first offered the chance to visit the elusive Miss Hill (as she apparently likes to be called) in concert, my initial reaction was one of nostalgia. A time back in the late 90’s of hazy summer afternoons and ‘Everything is Everything’ being played on repeat at our family friend’s BBQ.
But of course, that was 14 years ago and a lot has changed in that time. After that amazing debut album and a controversial unplugged album, Ms Hill has been largely reclusive, only resurfacing for a few random performances. Reviews were generally mixed, from poor vocals to questionable song re-arrangements (Ex Factor in treble time, anyone?), so my expectations were low.
The warm-up act was DJ Target, who put on a very stellar set playing old school hip-hop and reggae/dancehall before the main act appeared. My first surprise was that she came on pretty much on time – official word was 9pm but she came on at roughly 9:30pm (still gotta maintain some diva tendencies, y’all).
The second thing that struck me was the strength of her voice. I was expecting something hoarse and raspy but the sound coming through those speakers when she first made her way to the stage via a reggae/rock rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly’ was enough to give the crowd goosebumps.
Ms Hill performed the majority of the tracks from her breakthrough album ‘The Miseducation of…’ but switched up most of the songs halfway through with entirely new arrangements, which contrary to prior reports actually pushed these classics straight into the present day. Yes, some songs could probably have been left in their original form (Ex Factor, Lost Ones) but I don’t think this really mattered too much. It could even be said that these arrangements served as a glimpse of what a 2012 Lauryn Hill album would sound like perhaps?
My personal highlight of the show was when she went through a Fugees breakdown, evoking memories of being in my dad’s car or staying up late to watch ‘Flava’ on channel 4. ‘Fugee La’, ‘How Many Mics’ and ‘Ready or Not’ got the crowd hyped during the second half of the show and these were played more or less in the original format.
By this time, you could tell that Lauryn was becoming more and more comfortable with performing and even briefly gave some clues to the crowd about why it has taken her so long to get to this point in her life. You could see that she genuinely looked happy to be there and interacted with the audiences members, even singing happy birthday to one lucky individual.
Slightly erratic gaps between songs (perhaps a sound check hadn’t been performed earlier) and wardrobe malfunctions (poor choice of dress) aside, the concert served as a reminder to everyone why we fell in love with Lauryn Hill all those years ago. Above all, I was just happy to see one of the legendary entertainers that was such a part of my childhood and teenage years back on stage, happy, sane and doing what she does best. I’m not holding my breath for a new album anytime soon but hey, who even needs one based on this performance.