Excitement. Anticipation. Frustration. Anger. Relief. Confusion. Exhilaration.
These are the many emotions that characterize the Lauryn Hill concert Sunday night at Montreal’s Metropolis theatre. For most fans that braved last night’s deep freeze, the sold out show was over a decade in waiting. Hill did not disappoint, but she definitely took her time getting there.
Early reports were clear, Lauryn Hill may have finally emerged after an almost decade long self-imposed exile from the music industry, but as with all things Lauryn Hill, this would not be a simple re-entry into musical society. News quickly surfaced that Hill was showing up extremely late for shows and giving erratic performances. Fans complained that the classic songs from her hugely successful solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, were re-worked to the point of being unrecognizable.
The Montreal show was no exception to this pattern. The doors opened at 9:30pm but Hill only took the stage at 12:30am. Her DJ played an hour set to keep the annoyed and anxious crowd at bay and announced that, “Miss Hill apologizes, she needed to rest her voice because of the cold." When Hill finally appeared she barely acknowledged the elephant in the room. The reception from the crowd however, was overwhelming. This concert was a decade in waiting and the crowd at the Metropolis would not let something like a 3-hour wait bring them down. Hill opened the show with a Bob Marley song, one of many Marley songs that made their way into the show. Yes Ms. Hill, we all know you are the mother of 5 of Bob Marley’s grandchildren.
Finally delving into her own songs, Hill assured the crowd that; “We're going to do some classics tonight. You're definitely going to recognize the words." She was absolutely right; the words were recognizable. Too bad everything else about her classics were not. Hill showcased her very talented band in funk versions of Lost Ones, Ex-Factor and Zion. Ex-Factor was particularly hard to stomach as the new version lost the desperation that was so real and amazing in the original. Instead the audience was offered the song in snippets interrupted by long instrumental solos that stretched the song to close to 8 minutes long. There is no doubt that Hill, her band and back-up singers are talented and accomplished musicians. These revamped songs seemed to aim at demonstrating this talent. To give Hill the benefit of the doubt, she has clearly grown as an artist and her songs from the Miseducation album probably seem outdated to her. The crowd, on the other hand, had waited a very long time to hear these songs live. If Hill had been touring this past decade, playing these classics over and over, the re-imagined versions would have been more understandable and it would have been possible for her fans to grow with her. But as is stands, she has been a musical recluse and many in the audience just wanted the chance to here their favorite songs in a way that was at the very least familiar to them. Hill could have easily demonstrated her current musical direction and still pleased the audience with their favorites if she had, perhaps, surprised the crowd with some new material.
All was not a loss however, as Hill redeemed herself in a big way in the last half of the show. Going back to her Fugees roots, Hill ripped into How Many Mics, Zealots, Fu-gee-la and Ready or Not, sending the crowd into overdrive. With these songs she stayed close to the originals but still showcased her new rock-funk vibe. Hill proved that she is still an amazing MC. New acts like Nicki Minaj could learn a thing or two from Lauryn Hill. If Ready or Not didn't win over every last member of the audience, Killing Me Softly certainly did. A smash hit for the Fugees in 1996, the Roberta Flack cover further reminded the audience exactly why they had waited 3 hours for this show. Hill’s voice and MC skills were perfection in the encore when she finally played Doo Wop (That Thing) the signature track from the Miseducation album.
Lauryn Hill started out by alienating the audience but somehow managed to bring home a crowd-pleasing exhilarating performance to be reckoned with. It was emotional manipulation, but who would you rather be manipulated by than the beautiful and talented Ms. Lauryn Hill?
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