August of this year saw the 20th anniversary of one of the most iconic albums of the 90’s and beyond. ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. I could wax lyrical about this album! The way it impacted peoples’s lives across the decades, not only for fans like myself, but also artists and musicians alike. It is a timeless classic and to celebrate Lauryn Hill decided to embark on a world tour.
In May 1999 I was fortunate enough to see Lauryn Hill live, in the same venue, off of the back of the success of her debut solo album. What a night it was! I have been to many a concert and this was up there with the best of them. Over the years though Lauryn Hill has created, shall we say, somewhat of a reputation. Turning up late to shows – if at all – to rearranging her songs making them barely recognisable, much to the disappointment of her loyal fans. Based on this, to say I was a little reluctant initially to actually buy myself a ticket and see her again is an understatement! But, through the powers of persuasion from a fellow fan and friend (you know who you are!), let’s just say my arm was well and truly twisted!
Fast forward to her European leg last week and I was hearing, some, not so great things. So, I was now prepared for anything! How bad could it be?
Support came firstly from Digable Planets, a Grammy award winning hip hop trio from Brooklyn, New York, who formed in 1987 and are probably most famous for their 1993 track ‘Rebirth Of Slick (Cool like That)’. Followed by Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles – who it has to be said, really brought the funk to Manchester! Henry, is an accomplished musician and known for having worked with Snarky Puppy, was also vocally very good.
Time was ticking at this point, Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles set finishing at 9.20pm. As the roadies quickly began to transform the stage for the main event, a dj set then followed! New York’s own DJ Reborn, dropped a classic, Chaka Demus & Pliers ‘Murder She Wrote’ much to the crowds delight! The question now was, what time would Lauryn Hill actually appear? Could DJ Reborn keep the momentum and the crowd happy until she did?! This came in waves. There was a complete mix of age ranges in the audience due to the timeless nature of this album, and I feel she catered for everybody. Tracks from all the eras ensued from Stevie Wonder to Lil John, to Drake, to Michael Jackson.
Thankfully, 10pm, and showtime!
Visuals on the stage saw a classroom of children, the teacher calling out the register as on track 1 of the album. “Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill”. To which she then appeared in a full length flowery faux fur coat, pussy bow tied blouse, skirt, black turban and bright orange eye shadow. She said “We are here tonight to commemorate 20 years of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. We thank you for all the years of support, for initially receiving it with so much love. I’d like for you to let me and my band to take you back down memory lane. Is that ok? Can we go back? Let’s get it going!” The crowd were in rapture at this point and she went straight into ‘Lost Ones’.
The music flowed and the tracks from the Grammy award winning album were not quite how we know them. As predicted, they were reinterpreted, both musical arrangements and vocally. Some completely, some slightly. I was thankful for the three amazing backing singers on a couple of occasions, because without them, I did not initially recognise the tracks – only once or twice – but, I have to say, it was more interesting than disappointing! It is all about artistic impression after all.
Certain tracks were received better than others. Crowd favourites were ‘Ex-Factor’ – which is one of mine too – as well as ‘To Zion’, which was quite emotional as a montage of images of Ms. Hill’s first son with Rohan Marley were screened throughout this performance. At this point as the crowd sang the chorus so loudly, it was as almost if they were willing the vocals out of Ms. Hill!
The band was tight, the backing singers were vocally on point and the on-stage energy was high throughout, despite on occasion Ms. Hill waving hand gestures to the sound engineers to her left, as there appeared to be a few sound / technical issues. She was almost orchestrating the band at times too! Even though it didn’t go unnoticed, she appeared in command at all times and it did not effect the performance. She even managed to interact with the crowd whilst doing so!
Surprisingly, curfew time passed and the performance continued without interruption, and in doing so the energy levels increased. You could sense the end of the show was nigh, Ms. Hill again interacting with the audience thanking them for embracing the album for all of these years, which was quite endearing, but then she went straight into the number 1 anthem ‘Doo-Wop (That Thing)’ and the crowd went absolutely crazy – and what a performance that was! Two of Ms. Hill’s youngest children came on stage, at which point she tried to get the youngest – the little boy – on the microphone and he did respond to a couple of “that thing” to much cheering and “ahh’s” from the crowd. They had a little dance together, including the floss, as their mum came to her penultimate track, the classic Fugees track ‘Killing Me Softly’. This for me, was the best song and performance of the night – no reinterpretation here! Vocally Ms. Hill was sublime here, as was her rapping. And, to be fair, her rapping from the opening track and throughout the whole show was the highlight for me. Amazing.
As the lights began to come on at 11.25pm (25 minutes after curfew) again Ms. Hill thanked the fans and how she was also proud that the album had even influenced artists, to which her last track was her spin on Drake’s ‘Nice For What’ – which obviously samples the amazing ‘Ex-Factor” from the album – much to the crowd’s delight. A fitting end which encompassed why ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ has a place in so many lives 20 years on.
Vocally for me, there were moments of such greatness. Then at times it was as if she held back somewhat. You could hear that purity and strength in her voice that we love, but at times, she did not hit some of those notes and tones of the original versions, changing them to a lower range, but, was that partly due to her rearranging the songs rather than anything else? Only Ms. Hill knows the answer to that question.
It wasn’t flawless, but it wasn’t the disaster many others have reported from previous shows. I am definitely glad I bought a ticket.
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