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Concert review: Re-meeting Lauryn Hill at this week's Uptown show
“I know I’m up here and you see Lauryn Hill, and you came to see Lauryn Hill, but this is the first time y’all meeting me... And as I grow, you’re going to meet me a little bit more.” - Lauryn Hill, "MTV Unplugged," 2001.
Thirteen years later and currently on tour, we are still meeting Lauryn Hill, like it or not.
Strutting onto the Uptown Theatre stage at 9:38 p.m. in a shiny black floor-length skirt and menacing high heels (like the diva she has come to be known for), Ms. Hill continued to sing the cover of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel” she had started from backstage to open the show. The sold-out venue of 1,600 erupted in ear-splitting screams of adoration and worship.
Assigning seats was a quaint idea, but one that proved ineffective as most people pushed their way to the front of the room to get as close to the stage as possible, having waited for this moment since Hill took the industry by a storm with first and only studio album, 1998's “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
If you’re a committed, devoted and true Lauryn Hill fan, you knew to come to the show without any expectations. She could have started three hours late, and it wouldn’t have been uncharacteristic. She could have spent the majority of the night delivering lengthy, poetic lessons, only sprinkling the audience with a few songs.
One thing was for certain: she wouldn’t be the Lauryn Hill you thought you knew.
Transitioning into an upbeat reggae-style version of “Killing Me Softly,” Hill commanded attention waving her arms frantically at her backing band like a conductor. It became clear early on, not even they knew where she’d take the night.
Many people were less than pleased with such an unorthodox reinvention of her classic “Miseducation” songs; “Final Hour” was taken at least three times faster than the normal tempo, and while her rapid-fire rapping was seemingly effortless, it was almost indiscernible. Many of her songs followed suit, jam-heavy renditions taking several bars before sounding familiar. She would sing “Killing Me Softly” closer to the original later in the night.
Others were overwhelmed with love for Hill’s presence, shouting out praises for her artistry after each electrifying finish. Lengthening her relationship anthem “Ex-Factor” by at least double, and turning into a funk-rock number, Hill acknowledged she was singing it for all the ladies; the final words, “cry for me, die for me, give to me, live for me” repeated so many times at various speeds as if to exhaust the intense emotion from the lyrics.
Hill left the stage with the band playing atmospheric sounds and a celestial scene lit on the screen behind them, only to came back a few moments later to sit on a stool and deliver an abbreviated acoustic Unplugged set.
Authenticity at the heart of these tracks, “Oh Jerusalem” was a spiritual experience for both the crowd and Hill, who ended the song choked up by her own words. Her deep, soulful and perfectly raspy voice cutting through the space rang true of the Hill in her glory days, leaving empty air begging to be filled with her unmatched genuine vocals.
Hill engaged the crowd by bringing back Fugees hits, taking control once again as she conducted the audience to jump up and down as she spit the verses of the classic “Fu-Gee-La.”
Covering all of her bases, she pulled out a couple more Marley covers, and ended the night solidly with Grammy-winning 1998 solo classic “Doo Wop (That Thing),” sending those who stayed faithful (some people left) to Ms. Hill throughout night into the final singalong hysteria. She saved the best for last.
Soul Rebel (Bob Marley cover)
Killing Me Softly with His Song
Everything is Everything
Adam Lives in Theory
Just like the Water
Turn Your Lights Down Low (Bob Marley cover)
I Only Have Eyes For You/Zealots (medley)
How Many Mics
Ready or Not
Killing Me Softly
Jamming (Bob Marley cover)
Could You Be Loved (Bob Marley cover)
Doo Wop (That Thing)