Ms. Lauryn Hill at First Avenue, 1/18/11
Ms. Lauryn Hill
January 18, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Everyone loves a scintillating, juicy headline. That's the only plausible explanation I can think of for all the hoopla surrounding Ms. Hill's current tour, as an overwhelming majority of people online and in attendance at the show were buzzing about how late she would come onstage and whether or not it would be an unmitigated disaster.
It only took a few minutes for those fears to evaporate, however, as Hill appeared and made her way through an hour-and-50-minute set that was powerful and profound, holding the packed crowd rapt right up until the end.
"They told me the show was sold out," she remarked at the beginning of her set, scanning the crowd and beaming. "This is like really, really sold out. Look at this eclectic mix of people! I love it, this is great."
Looking like the hip-hop version of Annie Hall with her tan felt hat, wide-leg trousers, and black furry vest layered over a red, sparkly sweater, Hill took the stage around 11:50 p.m., only 50 minutes past her scheduled start time and 20 minutes after her DJ and band filed out to hype up the crowd (since when did we start demanding that iconic musicians be so punctual, anyway?).
She started off with a cover of Bob Marley's "Forever Loving Jah" before launching into a set of what she called her "classics" -- a handful of cuts off her debut and only solo album, The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill. Backed by nearly a dozen musicians and backup singers, Hill reworked much of her older material into lush new arrangements, at times motioning frantically to her band to highlight certain instruments or pick up the pace.
The beginning of the performance climaxed with a downright transcendent, soulful rendition of "Ex-Factor" that had more than a few concertgoers wiping tears from their eyes, which bled seamlessly into another heartbreaking ballad, "To Zion."
With the crowd still recovering from that emotional bludgeoning, Hill kicked off her shoes and coyly asked, "How many Fugees fans do we have in Minneapolis?" She was clearly digging the vibe in the Mainroom, as she paused several times to marvel over the packed and adoring crowd and inserted "Minneapolis" into practically every song.
Photo by Ben Clark
Though her rapping on the Fugees songs ("How Many Mics," "Zealots") was spot-on and intense, the crowd was hesitant to move with the music, and Hill did her best to whip up her band with a "pep talk" and get the audience jumping up and down. Though the full-band arrangements did much to accentuate her more melodic songs, the Fugees songs seemed to drag a bit with the addition of so many live instruments. That is, until the final one-two punch of "Ready or Not" and "Killing Me Softly," the latter of which started out with just Hill and her keyboard player and built into a full-band, full-room freakout.
For the encore, Hill came out and launched immediately into another Marley cover, "Turn Your Lights Down Low," and paused mid-song to introduce the crowd to the reggae legend's son and the father of her five children, Rohan Marley, who was seated at a table in the balcony. "There he is!" she pointed proudly, asking the club to shine a spotlight on him as she dedicated the cover to him. "For us, it's not 'I want to give you some good, good loving,'" she joked. "It's I want to give you some good, good baby-sitting time. I don't even know how many kids we have now."
As the clock neared 1:30 a.m. Hill asked if she could play one more -- and with the crowd more than sated from her lengthy set, her call-and-response rendition of "Doo Wop (That Thing)" was a joyous and celebratory victory lap.
Photo by Ben Clark
Critics' Bias: I went in expecting that there wouldn't be a trainwreck. Much like Hole's much-hyped show in the Mainroom last summer, people seem to exaggerate small missteps or disgruntled fans in a really sensationalized way as if they almost want these artists to fail, especially when it comes to strong female artists who aren't afraid to show some personality on stage or have an off night.
The crowd: Easily one of the most diverse crowds I've ever seen in the Mainroom. Also quite pushy toward the beginning of the night -- as my friend Robyn Lewis tweeted, "Peeps are real defensive over their $55 plot of land over here!"
Overheard in the crowd: "No one is dancing!" complained the concertgoer next to me, who couldn't believe how many people were just standing and staring.
Random notebook dump: Hill made several remarks toward the end of her set about wanting to come back soon. "We gotta do this more often, we gotta see each other face-to-face more often," she said. I hope she meant it.
Forever Loving Jah (Bob Marley)
When it Hurts So Bad
How Many Mics
I Only Have Eyes For You/Zealots
Ready or Not
Killing Me Softly
Turn Your Lights Down Low (Bob Marley)
Doo Wop (That Thing)
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