Read more on the Fugees’ reunion, DJ Quik’s House of Blues show, and other Grammy-week stuff in Ben Quiñones’ Grammy Diary, at laweekly.com! PLUS! Silversun Pickups! On the tour bus with Gogol Bordello!
at Hollywood & Vine, February 6
at Avalon, February 6
Devoted followers of the Church of Negro Hip-Pop made pilgrimage to the most famous intersection in the world, Hollywood & Vine — Mecca for dreamers of wealth and celebrity, symbol of the pop-culture armistice between art and commerce — for a night of communion and hoped-for sacrament: Black Jesus Knievel (Kanye) and Our Lady of B-Girl Blues (Lauryn) had manifested on the site. But it’s funny how money doesn’t change a situation: The dark side of answered prayers — the inability of fame, power and success to quell the insecurities that fuel ambition — floated heavily in the night air.
First up was the Fugees’ street-party reunion, which presented two questions: Is it too late for anyone to care, and is Lauryn Hill crazy? The jury is still out on the former; we won’t really know till they drop a new album. (The new single, “Take It Easy,” sucks, except for Hill’s first verse.) But the performance proved that the trio’s chemistry is still powerful. Wyclef Jean is the backbone of the Fugees, something he proved with crowd-pleasing showmanship that included aping Hendrix (teeth-to-guitar and all), freestyling fiercely in English, Spanish and French, jumping off the stage to run through the crowd, and doing backflips. The crowd roared approval when he spat politics that were both predictable (“Peace to Tookie Williams,” “George Bush better take it easy”) and murky (his juxtaposition of the deaths of Aaliyah and Marvin Gaye with those of Malcolm X, MLK and JFK ridiculously conflated pop-star tragedy and political horror). But it was hard to resist the easy charm of Clef’s I’m gonna make you love me approach.
Still, Lauryn is the group’s ineluctable spark, its sex and mystery and question mark, and the Lauryn who appeared was L-Boogie resurrected — with a smiling gleam in her eyes, trademarked spindly leg shadowboxing/dancing and B-girl finger-wagging, and a ferocity in her delivery that proves she’s not just the best female rapper but one of the best rappers, period. And in a fuck-it tack, she slipped from behind her protective armor to defend herself. Introducing “Lost Ones,” she said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not crazy. I’m just a black woman who’s super smart, who can’t be bought and who can’t be bribed. I’m not a machine. I give my people the truth. Today, if you’re all of those things they think you’re crazy. If that’s the definition of crazy, then I’m crazy.” The beat dropped and she went even more personal — “My emancipation don’t fit his equation,” (finger point to Clef) “I was on the humble, he on every station.” The crowd went wild.
And Pras. Damn. He was so tentative, so barely there — even when center-stage receiving mercy applause — that it’s hard to make jokes about him anymore. There was a sadness about him as he hung to the sidelines, doing perfunctory dance moves and rote head bobs. You almost wanted to run down to Amoeba and buy his solo shit just to cheer him up. They rolled out group and solo hits (“Nappy Heads,” “How Many Mics,” “Killing Me Softy,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Ghetto Superstar,” “Doo Wop,” “Guantanamera,” “Someone Please Call 9-11”) and a retooled version of “Take It Easy” that far surpassed the studio version. Clef was in great voice, while Lauryn was hovering at B+ status. (“Killing” began beautifully but devolved into shrieks by the end.)
Immediately following the Fugees concert, Kanye West took the stage up the street at Avalon, backed by a DJ, a laptop and live strings. (The show’s real star was the violinist clad in a white evening gown, whose intense arm gestures and body rocking threatened the integrity of her dress. Crazy energy.) Kanye raced through his greatest hits like a fan-boy having his American Idol moment, never letting up and never varying his assault-level energy, which tended to blur one song into the next. Non-surprise guest John Legend showed up for a couple tunes, but it was the appearance of rapper the D.O.C. (a car-crash survivor like Kanye) that made jaws drop. Kanye still can’t really rap, but his time on the road is improving him. As expected, the night’s highlight was “Gold Digga.” Ye began singing the radio-edit lyrics (“I ain’t saying she a gold digga/but she ain’t messin’ wit no broke, broke .?.?.”) but switched to the original lyrics for the final chorus. “White people,” he laughed, “this is your only chance to use the word nigga. Take advantage of it.” They did.