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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Live: The misunderestimation of Lauryn Hill

Posted by on Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Lauryn Hill
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Sunday, July 20, 2014
click to enlarge Hill got up close and personal at Sunday night's show in Raleigh.
  • Hill got up close and personal at Sunday night's show in Raleigh.


Maybe you were one of the many Lauryn Hill disciples who punked out and exited her Sunday evening concert at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater as soon as the rainfall upgraded from a soft drizzle into a brief downpour. Or maybe you were that guy, who, while leading your girlfriend out of the concert during Hill’s Bob Marley short tribute set, expressed to a man sitting nearby that you only “fucks with the hip-hop Lauryn Hill.” More likely still, judging from some of the empty sections, maybe you lost all hope in the eight-time Grammy-winning rapper, singer and actress years ago, preferring the safety net of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill LP to her reviving it 16 years later. If you were any of those people, you missed a comprehensive re-education on the all-around virtuosity of the former Fugees frontwoman, once considered cuckoo and irrelevant.

I had presumed that the Sister Act 2 strand of Hill’s voice might show signs of rust and rasp. When she eased into a reggae version of The Score’s “Killing Me Softly,” then, I figured she could no longer hit the magic notes of the album version. But she was only warming up for a tireless vocal display. Later in the show, Hill properly revisited “Killing Me Softly” with an august approach, surpassing the album version with added imagination.
To the left of the amphitheater stage, the howling horns of an approaching Amtrak train nearly drowned out the beginning words to “Everything is Everything.” In fact, it seemed Hill noticed the distraction and used it in her favor, altering the words of the song from “change, it comes eventually” to “train, it comes eventually.” That improvisation might not have fit the lyrics thematically, but given the timing of it all, it seemed OK to pretend in the stroke of genius.

A more realistic explanation as to why I heard, or at least thought I heard but now can’t be sure, that switch is Red Hat’s oft-criticized noise ordinances. The place simply doesn’t get loud enough. After rocketing through a double-time-rap version of “Final Hour,” Hill tried to convince the sound engineers to cut her some slack. “Can we bust that [sound ordinance] a little bit?” she asked.

When that didn’t work, she went straight into “To Zion” before settling into an acoustic set of songs like “Mr. Intentional,” “Oh Jerusalem” and “Water,” from 2002’s MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. This mostly acoustic set and the subsequent Bob Marley bit offered the only times where Hill stuck to the songs’ original form. Throughout the rest of the night, from The Miseducation... to The Score, she played remix conductor to her bands’ fits of Afro-beat and dub reggae makeovers.

That rain never did stop, and after Hill went into her own cover of Cher’s “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” it seemed clear that she might go all night, too. By then, the remaining people who may have been annoyed by the weather or disappointed that Hill didn’t perform album version had flooded the aisles against the ushers’ wishes, anyway, dancing.

“I want to see you again, Raleigh,” Hill sang to the crowd. “We gon’ bump that music. They won’t turn us down.”


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