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February 11, 2011

Review: Lauryn Hill at Rams Head Live Feb. 10

Lauryn Hill, the iconoclastic rapper who's considered among the most talented of her generation, performed Thursday night at Rams Head Live, a hastily organized concert that was announced just two weeks ago. Reporter John-John Williams IV was there.

A photo gallery of the show is here

You never know what you are going to get with Lauryn Hill. Will the uber-talented Grammy darling show up? Or will it be her alter-ego: an excuse-making diva who was more than two hours late last August to her set at The Rock The Bells Tour at Merriweather Post Pavilion?

The audience got a little of both last night during. Hill took the stage at midnight -an hour after her show was scheduled to begin. She had no opening act -just a DJ who spun a mix of reggae and old school hip hop.

The slew of hits that the DJ spit out was enjoyable the first 10 minutes. But after a good half hour of songs - around midnight on a weeknight - the crowd lost some of its energy and appeared to be growing restless.

Hill, who claimed to be sick (the DJ announced that she was feeling under the weather prior to her performance), coughed for a bit when she first appeared on stage. But she quickly recovered when she launched into the Bob Marley cover “Loving Jah.” 

The song - which is meant to honor the father of her childrens' father - includes a series of church-like call and response hooks that would be taxing on the most healthy of voices. But Hill was actually able to shine.

She gently peppered the song with a series of runs that she handled with ease, giving the impression that Hill was going to give Baltimore a spotless performance.

Those thoughts were quickly dashed with “Lost Ones,” which was almost unrecognizable because of the God-awful arrangement. “When It Hurts So Bad” was also problematic. Again she showed off her vocal chops as she belted out pitch-perfect riffs. Too bad her soulful sounds were pretty much incoherent. I couldn’t tell what song she was performing at parts.

Hill truly hit her stride with “Everything is Everything.” She told the audience that it was her first time performing the song with her band. But you would never know. Her energy and presence on stage entranced the audience, and was the mark of a world-class performer.

After singing “Ex-Factor” groups of fans were screaming: “We love you.” Hill playfully responded: “Did you practice that at home?” By 1 a.m. Hill announced that she didn’t have a lot more time on stage. (It was almost laughable given the fact that she started an hour late.) She surprised everyone by churning out another half hour worth of her biggest hits. “I Only Have Eyes for You” (The Flamingos cover, which was featured on The Fugees “Score” album) was simply fantastic. She nailed the hauntingly romantic song.

By this time she had abandoned her stiff, “Holy Spirit” church-goer movements for a more fluid feel. Hill had the audience eating from her palms during “Zealots.” She nailed “Fugeela” and “Ready or Not.” “Killing Me Softly” was also a treat, which set up her finale “Doo Wop (That Thing).”

By this point, Hill was leading her fans to jump in the air a la Kris Kross. She genuinely appeared to be at ease and having fun. After the song ended, I was struck by the fact that she made a point of taking on her critics. “People say we don’t appreciate our fans. That’s bull s&#t!” she said.

I appreciated the candor. It showed a sense of pride. (Heck, she showed she cared with her improved wardrobe at this concert. It was a step up from that dreadful getup she wore in August when it looked like she was channeling a grandmother in witness protection.)

Hopefully, it's a sign that Hill is ready to start recording music again so that she can capture some of that magic she left behind in the 90s.

John-John Williams IV is a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He last reviewed Lauryn Hill when she performed at Rock the Bells last year. Erik Maza edited this post.

Photo: Lauryn Hill at Rams Head Live 2010. (Colby Ware/Special to Baltimore Sun)

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Posted by Erik Maza at 11:07 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Concert reviews


Classic Lauryn, the show was phenomenal!

Those of us who love R&B mixed with hip-hop, with a more than a splash of reggae, loved this show.

Lauryn's voice was powerful and clear, and the band was great.

Lauryn, thank you, we need you, the youth of today and tomorrow need you, keep inspiring, and making music that has a meaning and purpose.

Long live Lauryn Hill!!!

I was there and your review is spot on! It was a little shaky at first and my high heeled feet were aching mercifully from waiting hours for her to come on but in the end she was worth the wait. Great review!

I'm sorry but I have to strongly disagree with this review. "God awful" is not the description I would use to describe her arrangements. "Inspired and funky" is more like it. I'm sorry but if you're truly a fan then the minute you hear "It's funny how money change a situation", you know immediately what song it is. It's a great take on a tune that she's been performing since 1998! What it also does is expands on her resume of genres that she manipulates into her repertoire: Funk, jazz, rock, and even more reggae. "When it Hurts So Bad" is different from the original but it's not problematic at all. It's sped up a little bit and she extends the chorus and adds on a vamp with the background singers. If you're closed minded to anything new because it's not like the CD then the last thing you should do is blame her. The problem is you, pumpkin. She didn't announce this tour as a "nostalgia" tour so the notion that she should keep everything the same as it was in 1998 is pretty silly. And your generalizations of the entire audience is pretty misguided as well. My entire section was dancing and singing the entire hour and 15 mins and there was no sign of fatigue. What's amazing is that she has the ability to sing and rap her hip hop verses seamlessly and she proved that effortlessly with "Lost Ones" and "Final Hour"--Which the new arrangement is an epic improvement on the original. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and judging from the applause and cheers, I think many did as well.

"THOUSE THOUGHTS"? Did you really edit this post, Maza?

@ Amanda: That is exactly why we don't have "fans" reviewing concerts. You all are way too caught up and in awe of these artists that you have placed in a God-like category.
The goal of the review is to give an objective take on the performance. That includes the highs and the lows. The concert was far from perfect. It wasn't horrible either. I think I did an accurate job showing the strengths and weaknesses of the performance. (FYI, I'm not the only reviewer in this country to mention the problems they have had with the arrangments.)
"CLOSED-MINDED TO ANYTHING NEW?" None of what Lauryn did last night was new. Slapping a new arrangement on a song that I was jammin' to in college isn't going to cut it a year from now.
Lauryn hasn't been performing since 1998. She's been missing in action for the better part of a decade...
While I enjoyed hearing her old hits, she simply needs new material. I can't see people continue to go to her concerts in say a year or two, and be happy simply listening to material from "The Score" or "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Save that for Las Vegas. And save the gushing praise for her fan sites....

Oh, I see. When someone disagrees with your statements then they are simply gushing fans. Perhaps you shouldn't review if you can't take it as well. All I did was relay my opinion just like you did. And for your information, she performed in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Say what you want but she wasn't locked up in her house for the entire decade. She kept touring instead of jumping back in the limelight. Clearly, if the arrangements weren't on the Album then it's new. Please take the time to read a little better. We can go back and forth on this but I'm simply someone disagreeing with some of your points. Nobody said the concert was perfect. I said I enjoyed myself. Take care.

@Amanda, I agree with you! It sounds like the reviewer might be a bit intimidated by your post...but, what can you expect from a grown man (I'm assuming man/grown) who goes by the name of John-John!!

Intimidated? It's called on working on a deadline! I'm off it now.
Where to begin?
@ Jay: I go by my birth name. (You know, the name that your parents give you. I know that knowing your birth parents-- let alone growing up with them-- is a foreign concept for some...)

Anywho, back to Amanda. I called you a fan because you said a "fan" would have appreciated what Lauryn did. (I already explained the problems of having "fans" write reviews.)

I've had the opportunity to interview and review some of the biggest acts of our time: Beyonce, Usher, Lady Gaga, Maxwell, Common, Chris Brown, Nas, John Legend, india.arie, Snoop Dogg, Wu Tang, and Mariah Carey. (And that's just in the past year, and not a complete list.) Clearly I have a little experience when it comes to what to look for in a performance.

And clearly I can take whatever you want to throw at me. But at the end of the day I'm going to stick by what I write. Nothing is a matter of fact. Music is all about taste and subjectivity. You're more than entitled to yours. I'll continue to write about mine.
All the best to you and the rest of Lauryn's fans. I only hope she can tap into some of the magic that she used during the 90s. Hip hop and R&B sorely need more of that right about now. And wouldn't it be great to be able to hear new material-- not arrangements-- and see her growth as a person and artist? I think any fan/ music critic could agree on that.

WOW John-John - I actually thought your review was fine and frankly an upgrade from Maza's 'style' of journalism but your behavior in the comments section is down right nasty

John-John: Notwithstanding who you may have interviewed in the past year or the past five minutes, you should act like a professional... and show a little class while you're at it.

John-John is seen for the true tool that he is.

When will authors stop engaging with anonymous comments?

John-John, I could careless who you interviewed. Take your own advice ("Music is all about taste and subjectivity") and stop arguing/defending/crying about comments on your posts.

@ John-John

"I go by my birth name. (You know, the name that your parents give you. I know that knowing your birth parents-- let alone growing up with them-- is a foreign concept for some...)"

Such a foreign concept that it continues to pervert love and destroy the self-images of far too many young boys and girls in this country. Please have more compassion and empathy than what you displayed with that comment. Consider yourself blessed.

And since you are a serious journalist, be a responsible one by refraining from getting into cyber fights with your visitors and demeaning them with your superiority complex. #sincereobservation

Look, I've been to one of the concerts on this tour and I found your review to be pretty consistent with my own experience give or take. (I won't bother to go into the things I personally disagree with).

But....I will address a few things after reading your review and the comments.

First, Amanda actually wrote, "I'm sorry but if you're truly a fan then the minute you hear "It's funny how money change a situation..." which was her response to this talk of Lauryn's "God awful" arrangements which caused the songs to be "unrecognizable."

And she's also correct that Lauryn has gone on several international tours in these last 10 or so years. But so many in this American bubble of ours probably aren't even unaware of that. And about that new material--you talk as if Lauryn has just been performing rearranged songs from the Score and Miseducation albums all these years.

There has been songs such as The Passion, Guarding the Gates, Selah, World is a Hustle Rich Man, Social Drugs, Conformed to Love, Lose Myself, Damnable Heresies, Middle Man, I Had to Walk...there's a few more but you get my point.

So let's not make her new arrangements a basis to imply that she doesn't have new material to offer. I can assure you that a writer and musician such as lauryn hill does not sit around for years and not create. True artist can't do that and live. Those who try, do drugs and drink because of the pain it causes. Seriously.

Why hasn't she performed those songs or newer ones? I don't claim to know. But If I were to guess, I would say its because she's experienced enough from the public, and her "fans" to know that they wouldn't have been ready for it. I mean, people are bellyaching over the fact that they can't have the 1998 Lauryn in concert now, and only dry their tears when she breaks into rendition of Doo Wop or Ready or Not (this is not including everyone).

I am going to go out on a limb and say this...had lauryn sang the songs as they are on the album, no one would being complaining about "new material." I would venture to say that is the case with you as well John-John. And believe me, I am not above correction. The sentiment seems to be this...if Lauryn is not going to give you ("fans" included) the Miseducation you remember, then she better give you "new material." There goes those boxes again. Now do you see why Lauryn said, "I get out."

The issue is not new material. The issue is new Lauryn Hill.

Please, before you pull the fan card. Yes, I am a fan of Lauryn Hill, but I'm more a fan of artist I am a rather temperamental, eclectic, process-oriented, sometimes paranoid, and unpredictable artist myself. Those are many of the ingredients stirring around in the gumbo pot that feeds people the art they so crave. So I understand.


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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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