Ms. Lauryn Hill
The Bomb Factory, Dallas
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Ms. Lauryn Hill is in the business of making her fans wait. It's been almost 20 years since she released the innovative solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and she's yet to release a follow-up. Wednesday night at The Bomb Factory, Hill left her packed crowd to wait (mostly) patiently as she showed up an hour late on stage, but it was a wait that proved mostly worth it.
Hill’s sole studio album’s fusion of soul and hip hop propelled her into mainstream success. It continues to be regarded as a poignant album of the neo soul movement in the 1990s. But her fans aren't simply holding on to the music of the ‘90s; Hill’s music is sparking interest in a new generation of music fans. When the DJ asked, prior to her arrival onstage, how many people were seeing her for the first time live, an overwhelming majority raised their hands. Having an undeniably ageless album like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill certainly helps.
Hill’s set consisted of both her solo record and Fugees material. She performed popular Fugees songs like “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready or Not,” but a rendition of “Feeling Good” was a standout moment. The rapping for “Lost Ones” was performed uncompromisingly fast, just in case anyone forgot that she’s a rapper as much as she’s a singer.
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Hill isn't afraiod to cross genres. Accompanied not only by the standard band set up, she shared the stage with saxophone, trumpet and trombone players that brought an element of jazz to the forefront. Unfortunately, Hill’s three backup singers were difficult to hear.
The happy side effect of that, however, was Hill’s passion and energy became the focal point, instead of relying on concert gimmicks like complicated stage lighting and flashy costumes. In an NPR interview several years ago, she admitted that she believed people were attracted to her passion more than anything else. Her fearlessness is what makes her so riveting in the first place. The world is full of excessive live shows, but Hill’s substantial presence makes up for any bravado that can be bought. She doesn’t hide behind thinly veiled smoke; she’s there at the front directing the band and calling the shots.
For the first few songs, Hill sang sitting with a guitar, but for the rest of the show, it was a jazzy night sitting comfortably somewhere between gospel and hip hop. Not many artists could pull off gospel-like back up singers and electronic beats at the same time, but Hill has never bothered with going the predictable route. The energy level wasn’t very high at first, but by the halfway point of the set, she'd begun to let go more, dancing, jolting and never missing a beat.
About two-thirds of the way through, that energy sagged once more and the set felt a little lackluster. The edges of the crowd became restless, but nevertheless everyone was back on their feet for the popular jam and closer “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
Fans have been longing for more chances to see Ms. Hill live, and even though some may consider some of her behavior and manner in the past questionable, she has always been a force to be reckoned with live. It’s obvious that she isn’t a “has-been” or someone that is just going through the motions for a paycheck, simply an artist who approaches her work on her own terms. Time will only tell if there will ever be another studio album from her, but for now, fans will just have to enjoy the show.