Review: Lauryn Hill at the Hammersmith Apollo 8.July.07

Defecating on Your Microphone

The return of Ms. Lauryn Hill as a performer is tainted by negative reviews. Amidst high expectations, many have poked at her raspy voice standard, sound defects sound defects and questions over being drunk on the stage.
But how fair is it to expect a performer of 22, in the heart of her success, to be presented in the same way at the age of 32?
laurynThe release of Hill’s new album seems to be superseded by the anticipation that it has built up. I don’t know how anyone would be eager to keep performing which such highly critical responses, but lucky for us Hill doesn’t seem to be giving up that easy and critics are there to criticise, so best to just leave them be. Something else makes me wonder is that if Lauryn was a male performer or a rock artist, whether the reviews would still be as unashamedly harsh, but that’s another story altogether. Just as a warning: this is a positive response, it’s not about screeching, off-key notes or the fact songs performed live don’t sound like they do on CD. I stood three rows away from the stage, I didn’t boo, I didn’t leave early – I enjoyed the show.
The performance of Ms. Lauryn Hill this July was a reflection of changed woman, working within different social realities from now to when “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was first released in 1998, just under 10 years ago. Aspects of all our worlds have changed in that space of time, we are in different political, environmental and musical stages – the wider appeal of Lauryn Hill as an artist, however, has remained. We saw this in the turn-out at the Apollo (which was barely advertised), in the massive audience response during “Ready or Not” and the electric atmosphere of her 15-piece band. Hill’s voice is not as strong as before, although her MC-ing is a lot more defiant and her stage presence is more significant now than it has ever been. If you’re interested in seeing a performer whose voice practically never changes, I suggest you go see a Madonna concert – with that you’ll probably get lots of sparkly pink lights and tons of dance routines, so it’s basically win-win.
lauryn1Back to people who don’t randomly adopt babies from Africa – Lauryn’s performance was one of the bravest I’ve seen in a long time. The harsh criticisms she got from concerts earlier this year hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, but they weren’t going to take her away from the stage altogether either. From questioning how the performance sounded to the audience, constantly monitoring her backing band and even a pre-warning that her voice for a solo delivery that her voice was not up to standard, Hill was evidently concerned about her delivery throughout the entire night.
The performance we saw on Sunday, despite what some reviews might claim, was one of a conductor and a musician. At times more concerned with the complete sound of her band than with what her audience at the time would think of her for not being ‘fun-time Lauryn’. Strutting the stage in a trench-coat covered outfit, Lauryn Hill was able to demand all attention on her, in total command of every aspect of sound. With a saxophonist, trombone player, four back-up singers, disk jockey, keyboard player, several drummers and three guitarists, it’s not hard to understand why. She encouraged the whole team on stage, like a younger James Brown or an older Jimi Hendrix.
lauryn5Lauryn Hill has proved throughout her career to not be just a one-trick pony. Hill is an actor, an MC, a singer, to some a person with deep spiritual insight, a role-model, a fanatic, a humanitarian. From all her projects – musical and otherwise, she has been able to publicise radical ideas of humanity and peace through lyrics just as, or even more effectively than, other artists have attempted to achieve from opportunistic charity concerts and records. The albums she has worked on vary, from “Unplugged” to “The Score”, to her release for recent kid’s movie Surf’s Up. But one thing that does remain constant is her honesty as a performer, openly showing strengths and weaknesses as a person and an artist. This may be the reason why her defects in the promotion for her upcoming album are so easy to notice and pick on.
The change in Hill’s style has been particularly shocking because we didn’t see the progression before it, her absence from the spotlight was crowded with urban legends and rumours. Click here to see how her husband is solely responsible for denting her character. We, the audience, have changed since 1998, our idea of Lauryn Hill the performer became solidified and they have not really been challenged until now.
The effects of years of introspection and cut-off from the music business can now be seen and it has taken its toll on the effortless soulful presence she used to emulate on stage. At the same time it’s a shame that the success of “ Miseducation…” has held many of us to hold someone to the person that they were 10 years ago rather than realising that at 32, Ms Lauryn Hill is a changed performer in her own right and she can do whatever she damn well wants to with a microphone.