For those looking for an on-the-nose rendition of Lauryn Hill’s beautiful 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, you probably left Comerica Theatre last night pretty miffed. I mean, it’s been 20 years. It’s basically her only solo work. Who does she think she is?
Hill definitely played Fugees faves like “Ready or Not” and “Fu-Gee-La,” and those who weren't insistent on singing over her fresh take on “Killing Me Softly” heard a satisfying follow-up to the group's iconic cover (Hill also covered Nina Simone and Bob Marley at the show).
Hill technically played songs off of Miseducation, but they were often near-unrecognizable. “Everything is Everything” seemed to get some banda inspiration, while “Forgive Them Father” got some reggae-dub styling, and "To Zion" got some toned-down gospel treatment (it was also the only song that was slowed down or muted in any way compared to the recorded version). With a powerfully talented group of musicians, a DJ that warmed up the crowd with precision before the show (thanks to an arsenal of beloved booty shakin’ tunes like “Between the Sheets,” “Mary Jane,” and more), and three high-energy back-up vocalists harmonizing in Hill’s trademark style, songs that, I would assume, almost everyone in the crowd knew backwards and forwards got new life.
Now, that could be very, very unsatisfying if you had expected Lauryn Hill to be performing Lauryn Hill karaoke (I heard plenty of belly-aching after the show), but you positively couldn't deny the artistry each person, from the horns to the ones and twos, had on that stage. Hill herself, adorned in a wide-brimmed black hat, alternated between melting minds with an insanely smooth and quick flow and melting hearts with her jazzy, soulful crooning. She also plays a mean acoustic guitar, apparently, with some Spanish flamenco vibes.
It’s been two decades. A lot has happened in those two decades. The musical redux offered to say what Hill didn’t last night (she had almost no stage banter, offering only a very sincere thanks at the end of the show) — things are different now. Really, with lyrics that say as much as they do, Hill didn't have to say much, performing pretty much non-stop for two whole hours (may we all have that level of unrelenting stamina at 40, incomparable talent aside).
I’ve heard Lauryn Hill’s performing style be pegged as erratic. I’ve heard she’s testy and demanding on stage. What happened last night was just watching a master at work. She often turned around, giving direction to her band, telling the backup singers to hold off or bringing the bass back in. She was conducting, getting it all just right and adjusting as she went while simultaneously holding down her own parts — like the pro she is.
So, if you left Comerica dissatisfied last night, chances are, you didn't come to see Hill perform as an evolving, growing artist, you came to see the thing you wanted to see. You probably could have saved $70 by watching YouTube. For the most part, though, even if the crowd wasn't able to sing along the whole time due to change-ups (hallelujah), Hill seemed to win over those unsure about the new arrangements with energy, passion, and skillful execution.
And, yeah, she played "Doo Wop (That Thing)" — at about 1.5-times tempo — for the finale.
Last Night: Ms. Lauryn Hill at Comerica Theatre
Timing: The opening act ended at about 9 p.m., Hill's DJ began at 9:36 p.m., her band took the stage at 10 p.m. sharp and she joined at 10:07 p.m. She played until just about midnight. Very punctual. Very generous.
The Crowd: Easily the most diverse group of 25-to-40 year-olds Phoenix has perhaps ever seen.
Overheard: "I'm gonna call her the dipper cause she
Random Notebook Dump: The light setup made it pretty much impossible to take even semi-decent phone videos... smart.