It’s been two years since Lauryn Hill last graced a UK stage, and in the intervening period the tribulations of her private life have worked pretty hard to make it seem like she might not ever even make it back. But despite house arrest and a stint in jail for tax evasion, the famously erratic former Fugees singer is back out on the road, touring a new show that’s sure to be as divisive as it is in demand. Prior to its arrival on British shores on September 20th, one of the show’s first European airings took place last night in the Croatian coastal City of Pula. Here’s what went down.
Billed as the opening concert of Outlook Festival, the overflowing dance and dub party that, along with its underground electronic sister event Dimensions, occupies the the peninsula for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer each year, the show is essentially a full re-working of her solo and Fugees back catalogue – often to the point of being unrecognisable. It’s performed with such premium vigour that you can only come away impressed by the breadth of imagination that has been invested in it.
Dressed in a wide brim hat and vaguely cow-girl like ensemble, Hill’s band noodle around her with wah wah guitars and piano keys that feel closer to a classic Doors jam sessions than anything of a hip hop heavyweight. And then she launches into the first airing of a barely recognisable re-working of ‘Killing Me Softly’. Before it’s over it has segued into a tinkling dub rhythm – for better or worse the crowd are left overwhelmed. She manages a second run through of the song later in the show, only marginally more faithful to the original.
In the first half of the gig she rolls through tracks largely pulled from classic album ‘The Miseducation Of…’, each of which she introduces by name as if signposting you through all the revisions. Shimmering dub, afrobeat percussion and even 80s radio rock guitar solos make up the broad, rich instrumentation, all seemingly designed to highlight Ms. Hill (as she insists everyone calls her)’s vocal dexterity, tonight on almost immaculate form.
Sometimes the arrangements get the better of her – the frequent speeding up of tracks, as on ‘The Final Hour’, render her a kind of breathless Scatman as she raps at pantomime speed, shouting out the Croatian crowd whenever the air in her lungs allows her.
After a handful of songs from her MTV Unplugged album, played solo on an acoustic guitar, the bricolage approach to her back catalogue is applied to a slew of rapturously received Fugees tracks including ‘How Many Mics?’ and ‘Zealots’. The only song of the night that seems to be relatively un-tampered with is ‘Ready Or Not’, which soars across the outdoor amphitheatre with added emotional weight as it reaches us in its original form.
To finish off, the crowd is treated to a slew of playfully delivered covers, including Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love?’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Masterblaster’ and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’, culminating in a mass singalong of ‘That Thing’.
So, no no-shows, no tantrums and no uninvited Kanye-like diatribes, all of which could have been reasonably expected. Just a singer with an acclaimed legacy coming back to paper over the misfires and remind the world why we fell in love with her talent in the first place. When UK touchdown comes in a couple of weeks, let’s hope for a repeat performance.
Lauryn Hill played:
‘Killing Me Softly’
‘Everything Is Everything’
The Final Hour’
‘Adam Lives In Theory’
‘Turn Your Lights Down Low’
‘How Many Mics?’
‘Fu Gee La’
‘Ready Or Not’
‘Killing Me Softly’
‘Is This Love?’