Today I saw Ms. Lauryn Hill in concert for the second time this year. Strange, because up until hearing that she’d play Rock the Bells, Ms. Hill was an afterthought for me. Granted I frequently return to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as a brilliant and comforting album but as a performer and public figure, Ms. Hill’s indefinite hiatus effectively erased her celebrity from my short-term memory. I assume this is what she wanted, to be removed from the media’s consciousness and watchful eye. But, even as fans often recall Ms. Hill as the preeminent female musician of the 90s, her self-imposed exile came at the cost of her legacy. While some acclaimed musicians maintain a constant presence in the life of their fans (see: Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and, for better or worse, Michael Jackson), Ms. Hill seemed content to leave her mark and move on with her life, as a mother and private citizen.
Now Ms. Hill is back, either due to personal desire, a need for money, both or wild card. My guess is the latter. You can’t go wrong by guessing wild card when it comes to Ms. Hill.
Even though she’s a notorious a prim donna, a performer more interested in her nails than punctuality, Ms. Hill recently announced a 2011 winter tour with multiple dates in New York, including a New Year’s Eve show at Gansevoort Park Hotel. How she will make it on time to ring in the New Year is a mystery to me. Last night at 1 AM, three and a half hours after her scheduled start time, Ms. Hill scolded an understandably irritated crowd for their impatience and disrespect. I think I’d rather watch the Snooki ball drop than have an obscenely tardy Ms. Hill yell at me after she misses the stroke of midnight. At least Snooki’s act is an intentional joke.
After a lackluster hour-long DJ set and Ms. Hill’s eventual entrance and diatribe, she finally decided to play music. I’m not sure if it was much of an improvement from the DJ’s cliché mix of 90s hip-hop. Eschewing the original arrangements of her beloved songs, Ms. Hill instead chose to share the stage with a twelve piece band (yes, a twelve piece band consisting of three keyboardists, three guitarists, three back-up singers, a bassist, a drummer, and the DJ) who, at Ms. Hill’s constant request, blew-out every instrument part and transformed soft ballads into hard rock jams. If this is difficult to conceptualize, I assure you it’s even more difficult to listen to.
Sadly I believe Ms. Hill still possess a lot of her vocal powers. Although her range is dropping off, as evidence by her performance of “Ex-Factor,” she still maintains the sweet rap/ sing abilities that made her such a stand-out in the Fugees and, for that matter, popular music. But, for whatever crazy reason she’s concocted, her set list consisted of sloppy arrangements, abandoning both tempo and dynamics for a revved-up wall-of-distortion.
So as I stood around listening to a nearly identical set-list to the one Ms. Hill played at Rock the Bells, I ultimately decided to forego the end of the show. I witnessed the spectacle. No need for the finale.