Better than most Lauryn Hill shows.
Last night's Lauryn Hill show featured a true Valentine's crowd: stoned, star-crossed lovers and women in groups of four who looked like they had blasted “All The Single Ladies” repeatedly on the drive over. The place was jammed, the fringes of the crowd spilling out into the bar area.
But the venue wasn't really buzzing like a sold-out show should; there was something of a nervous energy in the air, and understandably so — Hill has a checkered live history. Her Coachella 2011 set is the stuff of legend, but other efforts haven't been well received, including her MTV Unplugged performance. Typical complaints about Hill's live act is that she's horrendously late, the sound quality is awful, and that she races through her sets.
Last night Hill was late, but only maybe a half-hour, which is about standard. What wasn't forgivable was the band's working out of their sound issues on stage and Hill awkwardly signaling to them like a frustrated orchestral conductor. “Can you hear me out there? I can't hear myself,” she said repeatedly. She was met with cheers, but they grew more sparing with each song.
The technical issues, and the uncomfortable energy, came to a head during an awful — and I don't use that word often — rendition of “To Zion.” During a 10 minute+ catastrophe that made Phish seem like a tight act, the band appeared to be totally out of sync. The drummer was playing by himself at times. Eventually her DJ just took over, the stage lights went dark and Hill headed backstage.
But then, almost miraculously, the ship was righted.
She returned to the stage and asked, “Do we have some Fugees fans in Los Angeles?” The places went nuts. Hill then blazed through “How Many Mics,” and then she hit her stride with “Ready or Not” and “Fu-Ge-La” harkened us back to days of glory.
The best part was “Killing Me Softly.” On Valentines Day, with the house lights on, are you kidding me? It brought the place to its knees.
Hill allowed herself only one moment of reflection before her final encore, a syrupy Valentine's rendition of “Could You Be Loved.” “This is a work in progress,” she said, “I want you to know I appreciate you and it's going to keep growing.”
Last night's show was indeed a work in progress, but when Hill picked up her daughter and waved to the crowd at the end, one got the feeling that she's finally back on the road to being the kind of singer who once made the Grammys relevant.
Personal Bias: It was Valentines day and I was with my girl; I may have had love blinders on.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Put that joint out! My wife is pregnant!”
Random notebook dump: Hill paid tribute to Whitney Houston, sympathizing with the fallen star who she said folks only cared about when she was “making hundreds of millions of dollars for a corporation.”