Lauryn Hill, Part II
Written by Duana
(Click here for Part 1 of Duana on Lauryn Hill.)
Like everyone else, I was of mixed emotions where the Lauryn Hill show was concerned. I was elated to be going, but I’ve read the reviews the past few weeks; I was worried about what would happen after the long, expectant wait finally came to a close.
I mean the long wait since I last saw her perform, but to answer the most popular question first – about three hours. That is, doors opened at nine. Ms. Lauryn Hill (as my ticket read) showed promptly at midnight. (Although if you arrive when doors open, you have only yourself to blame.) Either way, anticipation was huge.
I have long loved Lauryn Hill and was terrified to be disappointed. Back in June, (before I knew I’d actually be attending this show), I wrote an article about her imminent return. When I reread it today, here’s what stood out.
A get-together with a long-lost friend. Always awkward and trepidatious... [what if] the gap between her and I is too big?
I went to Saturday’s show with people I didn’t know twelve years ago. Who had the same love for the music as I did but a totally different memory of discovering it. More importantly, all of us are different people now than we were back then.
This is why I cannot understand the people who are whining that she didn’t only play her old songs, word-for-word. Do you want everything the same forever? I know, songs are associated with memories of a certain time. But if all you want is to feel like you’re in college again, you can always play “Come On Eileen” and jump around.
But of all people, one of the most talented MCs and lyricists of our generation is the one you want to keep in a box?
So, to outline what people are so upset about: Early in the show, Lauryn – who seemed totally coherent and funny and engaged, so that rumour is obsolete – pointed out that some classic songs were reimagined. Cut to renditions of “Lost Ones”, “Ex Factor”, and “Zion” that were old and new. Old lyrics, completely new tunes. But she broke each one down, mixing and re-improvising at length (‘Ex=Factor’ was 15 minutes long) until she’d created something totally original.
This is where I turn into a music snob, so beware. To me, this was amazing. Finding a whole new tune that fit the lyrics? Inspired. She often cued her band or singers live onstage, exhorting them to go faster or finish with a drum riff. It was obviously not rehearsed – which means she’s completely in the moment, knowing when to finish what’s happening. This is not a musician on autopilot. And there were clues – in what seemed like a totally new song, there were hints of familiar riffs. Finding them (like the “marching marching marching marching” part of ‘Zion’) became a game.
It was basically a jam session. Nothing about it felt stale, or rehearsed. You could see her get particularly jazzed about something that went well, and brush past a cue or a riff that didn’t land the way she wanted.
I don’t go to tons of live music. Not like some people do. But isn’t this the point? Spontaneity? Stuff you can’t hear on the album? A performance only remembered by the people who are there, one night only?
Why are we trying to turn this artist into her own CD?
The show started thinning out about halfway through. Perhaps it’s not an accident that that’s when the hits came out. Loyal fans who stuck around enjoyed an hourlong celebratory dance party. You know that end sequence in ‘Sister Act Two’ where they’re all joyfully singing and carousing around the stage, L. Boogie among them? Yeah, I lived it Saturday night.
Old Fugees. Older Fugees. A heartbreaking rendition of “I only have eyes for you”. Then, as my friends and I danced harder than ever, and got weird, sidelong looks from people around us – ‘Killing Me Softly’. ‘Ready or Not’. ‘Turn your lights down low’. She closed out with “Doo Wop”, because of course she did.
It wasn’t a reimagining of ‘Miseducation’. It was a magical mystery tour of her career. How are we complaining about this? Even from a business standpoint, she’s got to get people interested in what she’ll do next. Right?
The show was amazing – possibly my best ever – but it wasn’t perfect. I couldn’t hear her over her band sometimes. I would have appreciated a little more intro to the stuff she sang – why or how she re-did it or still likes it. Now that we’re both a lot older, I would have loved a little more reassurance that Lauryn and I still have some things in common. Just like when we were young.
But I know this much – she needs to do something different than when she was 23. Be someone different than she was 12 years ago. Not erase that person, but not be chained to her either.
Who can’t relate to that?
(In closing, yes, she did wear a hell of a lot of makeup. She also carried, and used, a sweat-rag the whole time she performed. So…maybe A is to mitigate B?)
Photo from Johnny Louis/Wenn.com