Moments after Lauryn Hill closed out her very late, fairly short, and somewhat odd performance at Budweiser Stage in Toronto, there was a general disgruntled feeling that settled across the audience, followed by boos, confusion, and several fans pledging their anger in tweets and videos on social media. Apparently, most were unaware of the reputation that Ms.Hill developed over the last few years; a few seemed unfazed, and perhaps, like this attendee, there were some who were holding out for an outlier in the Lauryn Hill concert experience.
But alas, even for the 20th anniversary of Hill’s genre-defining The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her tardiness, rushed performances, and interpretative takes of her music all fell into place, just as the most realist of fans knew they would. For those who expected or hoped for anything more, who could blame them? An anniversary event always feels like it should come with an extra oomph. Maybe the star-studded list of opening acts announced for the tour made it feel like each city was going to experience a mini-festival, featuring artists who come from that 90s golden era or were influenced by it, and the queen of the decade to top it all off. Acts like Nas, M.I.A., SZA, Kelela, ASAP Rocky, and even comedian Dave Chapelle are all billed across the various dates on the anniversary tour.
Busta Rhymes, Tierra Whack, and Santigold were dubbed as the openers for the Toronto stop. Busta brought an endless series of throwbacks; Santigold, whose set was more well-paced and packed than Lauryn’s, proved how well her catalogue still bumps (‘L.E.S. Artistes’ and ‘Creator’ alongside her debut album Santogold turn 10 this year). But the period between Santigold and Lauryn’s set, was a long, long wait, and even with the assistance of great soca and dancehall shared by DJ Reborn, the novelty of being fashionably late wore off quickly.
When she finally made her way to the stage, the history of Lauryn Hill came to repeat itself once again. And for the most part, the experience comes down to a philosophical debate on an artist’s work. Should singers and musicians be forced to stick to their original creative choices, or should they revisit those choices in a way that is artistically fulfilling? Refreshing a 20 year old album with a live band, different lyrical rhythms, updated instrumental bridges, and other transitions are actually enjoyable if you give yourself to the latter side of the debate.
Songs like ‘Lost Ones’ and ‘Everything is Everything’ felt more punctuated and roaring with the assistance of a live band; ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ transformed into a low key doo wop after rearranging the vocals with Lauryn’s background singers. Granted, for the crowds sitting beyond the 200s, the sound tech wavered and may have compromised the ability to appreciate some of the subtleties in Lauryn Hill’s conducting. The show was rife with these issues, and made Hill constantly speak to her band and crew mid-performance.
But let’s say the sound was okay, and Hill didn’t have to focus on the little details. The voice is still as powerful and soulful as ever; her cadences and rhythms hop infectiously. The fact is, fans would probably embrace the new iterations if she showed up on time and used a full set to let these updated takes breathe. Even a muddled tribute to Toronto in the form of her own cover and interpolation of Drake’s ‘Nice for What’ (which samples ‘Ex-Factor’) isn’t enough to compensate for the disrespect Lauryn Hill shows to her fans and to herself every time she is late to her performances. Even after years of this kind of behaviour, her fans aren’t lost ones; they will continue to revere her and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which is one of the most influential and greatest albums of all time. It’s just unfortunate that she insists on taking them and their support for granted.