Live: Lauryn Hill, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close At The Blue Note

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Still capable of defecating on your microphone, surprisingly. Pics by Santiago Felipe, more below.
Lauryn Hill
The Blue Note
Monday, January 3

Better Than: You had any right to expect

The bad news always comes first with Lauryn Hill. And so. Initial advertised start time: 8 p.m. Revised start time as of this evening: 11. Mood at 10:05: anxious. (Two different Blue Note folks use the words "hopefully," "start," and "eleven" in a sentence while I'm taking off my coat.) PA announcement at 11:05: "Lauryn will be on really soon." ("Is that five minutes or less?" someone shouts; "10 minutes?" comes the answer.) 11:23: a DJ shows up to "set a nice mystical mood." (Which involves lots of Bob Marley.) 11:42: the band appears, crowding the tiny stage, and starts idly vamping. 11:50: The couple next to me, who I learn have been sitting there since 7:15, leaves in disgust, explaining that they have a train to catch, the male half noting diplomatically that "That's how Lauryn is." 11:57: Lauryn steps onstage. I feel terrible for those poor people who left, both because they missed the show, and because the show itself was actually fantastic.

You know this about Lauryn Hill already, of course: the relentless lateness, the defiant aggro-rock scrambling of her beloved solo + Fugees back catalog (typical banter: "See if you recognize this one!"), the physically painful rasp now seemingly omnipresent in her voice. Only two out of three tonight, though: Her voice sounds great, actually, clear and brash and lethal, shifting from the straight reggae crooning of "Forever Loving Jah" (more Bob Marley) to the rap-metal swagger of "Lost Ones" to the simmering torch-song theatrics of "When It Hurts So Bad," directing the band to lay out as she adds a wailing a capella coda that leaves her nowhere to hide and no reason to. There's a mic in her right hand and a black handkerchief in her left; she dabs at her face nearly every second she's not singing. "If I had a bikini I would still be sweating this much," she notes, as someone in the front row continually waves a napkin at her, semi-helpfully. "It's the lights."

Once you accept that you're probably not going to get these songs as you originally heard/loved them, you're free to marvel at the audacity of Ms. Lauryn Hill in 2011: the breathless rant of "Ex-Factor," say, basically performed twice in full, the second time with way more psych-rock wooziness. Hill is a tough bandleader, constantly hectoring both the soundman (poor Lucas, name-checked mid-song roughly 50 times tonight) and the players themselves: "Where we going? Where we going?" she demands as one keyboardist takes a deranged prog-rock solo during "To Zion." But the maelstrom doesn't overwhelm her the way it apparently did at other shows, even with the much smaller and less sonically forgiving venue, and eventually she starts singing the songs more or less the way you originally heard/loved them: From "Fu-Gee-La" on, the crowd's on its feet (a rarity at the Blue Note) as she blows through "Ready or Not," "Killing Me Softly," and a climactic "Doo Wop" with aplomb.

It's around 1:45 a.m., and there's a feeling that we all avoided disaster here: The show could've started way later, and bypassed "intimate" and headed straight for "incredibly loud and painfully incoherent." But instead, the immense frustration of the wait behind us, the dominant memory is the unremitting joy driving "Fu-Gee-La," Lauryn beaming and clearly enjoying herself in a way she hasn't seemed to in quite a while. She always makes you work for it. At last, she's started rewarding you when you do.

Critical Bias: The last time I saw her, at Wingate Field in 2007, didn't go quite as well.

Overheard: Lots of grumbling up until midnight, lots of elation from there on.

Random Notebook Dump: On "To Zion": "This is a song I wrote while I was in the shower, about my now 13-year-old son. It was the only privacy I could get at one point."

Set List:

Forever Loving Jah
Lost Ones
When It Hurts So Bad
Ex-Factor
Final Hour
To Zion
How Many Mics
I Only Have Eyes for You/Zealots
Fu-Gee-La
Ready or Not
Killing Me Softly
(encore)
Turn Your Lights Down Low
Doo Wop

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35 comments
MeMet
MeMet

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Edwardmayer42
Edwardmayer42

I love Lauryn (and no, I don't know you).But the only way I would ever see her live is if she came to my house. I saw her in 08 in Oakland. Fussing at her band on stage (they were very good mind you).She even fell on stage and starting singing from her back. The Lauryn we loved is not here any more.Too bad, cause we would take you back.

Specialdark90210
Specialdark90210

How can you make these statements? They are without merit since you have not seen her latest performances. I saw her earlier performances, as well as her latest one at the Blue Note. In my opinion - which is just as good or maybe even better than yours - she is AWESOME!

Nlp
Nlp

LOL...lies.I was there and she sounded mediocre.

Leslovering
Leslovering

You have to be practical when you speak of vocal quality. She hasn't performed nearly as much as she did 13 years ago. Her voice was great if you take that into account. As far as the vocal embellishments she was capable of previously and the vibrato she was a master of - yeah, she needs work on it - but she still sounds awesome. You don't have to do vocal tricks to have an amazing voice. This was a live show, not a studio recording. I'd go see her again

Renee
Renee

Most singers I am accustomed to seeing live actually sound better live than they do on record, so my standard may be a bit too high for Lauryn Hill. I've seen singers who perform just as infrequently and most of them still sound amazing. One doesn't need to do a lot of tricks to have a great voice, but being able to hold notes for longer than 3 seconds and not relying so much on the background singers is a must for any good singer. Her voice sounds tired to me and her singing is lazy. I don't consider her a singer, but we are all entitled to our opinions.

Renee
Renee

I saw Lauryn Hill last night and I agree with most of the reviews here. She was mediocre, not bad, but not nearly as good as she used to be. He voice is weak and it sounds damaged to me. The only thing she can still do well is rap and engage the audience, but as far as singing is concerned, she is just so so. It was definitely not worth $125, maybe $25 or $30.

Martin Henson
Martin Henson

I saw Lauryn Hill last night, and simply put she killed. I was horrified after reading this, and I tried to sell my ticket @ ! Thank God that I did not. Here are a few pictures.http://www.handcraftedbymartin...

Leslovering
Leslovering

Please don't listen to the nay-sayers. Just got back from her second show, she was AMAZING!! The venue sent an email early Monday stating all shows would start at 11 instead of 8pm. I believe the original showtime was probably 11 and the venue changed it for their sake (food and drink revenue from those who wait for 4 hours). Regardless, she was sooooo worth the wait. Her vocals were impeccable!

Edetiger
Edetiger

So what time did she show up yesterday?

Boogieshoes25
Boogieshoes25

This show started out slow...the big problem for me was that the enue was fuill of rookies. I see at least 50 or 75 shows a year (depedning on the year) and this place was a total disater last night, almost entirely due to Lauryn being 3 hours and 57 minutes late. That is obscene. What it did was cause people to drink for hours and they clearly couldn;t handle themselves. The last time I was in a fight was in the 3rd grade (27 years ago) and I was threatened by some dude simply because he did not like my opinion of the show.

Lauryn's voice is OK...not wha tis used to be. The bass and drums wre simply there keeping time (their fundamental job), but they were boring. They didn't vary anything all night. The first half of the show was boring at best but it did pick up very nicely in the 2nd 45 minutes. She definitely knows how to work a crowd...she's great at it. The guitarists were quite solid.

All that said, being 3 hours and 57 minutes late in unacceptable and they should have refunded $$$ or comped dinner/drinks or, i'm going to go out on a limb here, APPOLOGIZED.

guest
guest

She was not 3 hours and 57 minutes late. The Blue Note emailed everyone who purchased tickets - prior to the show - that the 8 pm and 10 pm shows were consolidated into 1 show - scheduled to begin at 11 PM. So, yes, she was late - but 57 minutes late. If you did not purchase your tickets directly from the Blue Note, then perhaps you missed the update. Speak with confirmed knowledge.

Miss Murray
Miss Murray

Actually there was only one show those 3 nights all along. The original start of 8 was changed to 11 via the email they did send a few days propir to the show. No concert starts at the concert start time. If a Jay-Z concert at MSG has a 8pm start time, NO ONE is going to be on the stage until 9pm, period. Usually there's an opening act but knowig they sent a revised start time of 11pm I expected her on stage at midnight so she was right on time.

Eric
Eric

I'm looking forward to the show tomorrow - but FWIW in New York you stand ON line and are ON time (for about 400 years now beginning with the Dutch).

Kyle
Kyle

Great energy, but just in ok voice last night.

Jess
Jess

A friend gave me tickets to this show last night and I was disappointed because her voice does not compare to the voice of the Fugees' front woman we are all familiar with from the 90's. She sounded tired to me even though she had lots of energy. I am happy I didn't pay for the tickets.

the Grape
the Grape

I'm selling a pair of tickets for her Feb Wellmont Theater show in Montclair NJ on craigslist at face value. They are upper general admission, but there are seats in the upstairs section. Search on craigslist and you should find them

Grim LeRogue
Grim LeRogue

i hate all you lucky fux who hav tickets 2 this. just want to announce my hatred for you ;)

Soupreto30
Soupreto30

You are not missing much dude. She is an arrogant, non singing has been.

Bob Cue
Bob Cue

but your hating ass was there, and will DEFINITELY!! show up to the show next time she tours....YOU ALL WILL!! so will I!! LOVED IT!!

Edwardmayer42
Edwardmayer42

No Bob. And I mean no disrespect here, but evertime she do a show there will be more and more people who will walk away done with her. Again, too bad.

Cheryl
Cheryl

Anybody who cares about vocal quality will admit that she is only half as good a singer as she used to be. She was just ok.

Grim LeRogue
Grim LeRogue

this reminds me of the Yankee playoffs where all the rich assholes get to go to the game live while the real fans have to stay home and watch on TV; then read unworthy spectator's ignorant comments in the paper the next day.

you're obviously one of the privileged assholes who isn't worthy of Queen Lauryn's presence.

there needs to be a Hip Hop quiz required of each attendee before they're allowed to enter shows of a Hip Hop legend; you'd probably be one of those dummies rejected at the door lol

RJ
RJ

Sorry bruh. This is coming a true fan of hip-hop. And I'm old enough to remember when Lauryn was, well, Lauryn. Humble, gifted & let her talent speak for itself. I was there at her fan appreciation for 'Miseducation' in '99. Which by the way, had a late release date from being pushed back a few times--so I guess we should'nt be surprised.

While she deserves the respect and her rightful place in music, she gets ZERO props for ultimately sh*ttin' on her fans by being consistently late to her perfomances. The attitude of 'it don't start 'till I arrive, so I'm never late.' is not cool. She hasn't lost not just one, but a few--including this underprivileged asshole who knows better.

Specialdark90210
Specialdark90210

Soupreto - you are just stupid. I was at the show last night and Ms. Hill was absolutely amazing. Obviously, you are a poor judge of God-given talent ... just because you are probably lacking in many categories ... don't hate - Appreciate!

Soupreto
Soupreto

Whitney Houston also has what you call "God-given talent" and she is sounds horrible now. There are tons of talented singers who are capable of sounded like they should go back to bed and Miss Hill is one of them. I am entitled to my opinion and if you can't deal with it, too bad!

Andrew
Andrew

I was also there and I have to agree with the person who did not like her voice. She put on a great show, but her voice was lacking in many areas. In the 90's she was known for being a singer/writer and a rapper, now I no longer consider her a singer. She sounded like she had a cold and her background singers shined while she faded into the background of their great vocals. Sorry if you don't agree, but Lauryn has not sounded good in at least 10 years.

Robert in Brooklyn
Robert in Brooklyn

Her voice was only partially present and that rasp did not do it for me. I appreciate her background singers for picking up her slack. I will never pay to see Lauryn or Miss Lauryn Hill again. You have definitely lost one...

Lace
Lace

I was there an dI agree with your assessment of the show. She did not sound great even though she performed well.

vhmckenzie
vhmckenzie

I have table tickets for the show tonight, Tuesday - and only now am learning that the official show time is 11pm, not 8pm.

Not that I expected an actual 8 show time with Ms. Hill.

So I' not about to show up at 7pm when the doors open and wait 5 hours. On the other hand, I'd like a decent seat. When did the tables fill up? Any suggestions?

Enjoyed the review.

lauren
lauren

Get there by 9pm for a great seat, otherwise you'll be off to the side.

guest
guest

I was there last night and I'd say that this review is spot on. She sounded fabulous!

By 9:30, the only remaining seats were off to the side of the stage or toward the back almost in the bar area. I arrived around 8:30 last night and got a pretty good seat. Still a long wait, but we also ordered dinner to pass the time.

Enjoy the show!

vhmckenzie
vhmckenzie

Wonderful info - thanks so much! I'll see if I can drag my husband there by 8-8:30. Dinner is a good idea to pass the time.

Appreciate your info!

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