Artist: Lauryn Hill
Venue: SSE Hydro
Date: 23rd November 2018
I recently read two 20th anniversary features on The Quietus. One was for ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ and the other was ‘Enter The Wu Tang Clan (36 Chambers)’.
It’s fair to say that only one of these albums registered with me at the time and it wasn’t the one that won five grammys and sold millions worldwide. Strangely the Wu-Tang Clan get royalties from Miseducation as two tracks sample drum beats from ‘Enter the Wu-Tang Clan’ so there is a connection between them.
It was impossible to ignore Miseducation though. It was everywhere but I found it all a bit bland for my somewhat limited hip-hop taste. Even when I heard the album years later, (it is one of my wife’s all time favourite albums), it still drifted by with a shrug of the shoulders.
But Hill is an enigmatic mythical figure who occupies her own universe and abides by her own rules. Maybe the album didn’t strike a chord with me as much as it did with millions of others, but Hill as an artist was certainly interesting and an obvious talent. What this gig proved to me was, that I didn’t realise how talented.
On my way into the venue, which has all the soul of a shopping centre food court, with a concert hall instead of an ice rink, I wondered what the make up of the audience would be? The answer was mostly women. It seems that Lauryn’s tales of lost love, female empowerment and black politics was seen as the epitome of girl power for those who didn’t fancy wearing Union Jack dresses in the late nineties.
Firstly though, we had to enter Lauryn’s world. A world where she does things when she is ready. It was five to ten before the roadies eventually finished their final checks. The warm up DJ had read the make up of the audience perfectly with a set that turned the Hydro into a hen night at any local miners welfare. As the clock ticked down there weren’t many grumblings at the late show. A perfect trick of hand, making sure the audience was occupied and not clock-watching.
As the screens flickered into life and ‘Intro’ from the album started, Hill walked onto the stage dressed in an overcoat, a tartan dress, an over the top tea cosy hat and a sermon for the waiting masses. We were here to commemorate an album she announced, then launched into a blistering ‘Lost One’, which was far harder and angrier than the recorded version. Hill disses her ex-Fugees mentor and lover, Wyclef Jean, as if he was standing right in front of her.
This set the tone for the night. Versions of songs were reworked and revitalised from the laid back vibe of the album. This was no longer a shrug of the shoulders, this was being hit between the shoulders blades with an almost perfect rap, soul and funk crossover. The gig was played as if it was a rent party in early seventies New York. No let up or an inch given.
I’ve never given Hill the credit she deserves as a rapper but tonight, especially on ‘Forgive Them Father’, she proved that particular talent is on par with her excellent, smooth soul voice. Hill is also a hard task master. Her band were always looking to her for instructions in the form of flicks of her hands, a nod of head or a glaring look, directing what they had to do. No song ends until she gives the signal. She conducts as well as sings. She’s on point for every little detail for what is happening on stage. It’s a captivating watch.
Hill could have easily just turned up and rolled out the versions of the songs that we all know. The majority of the audience would have been happy with that but she is a maverick and a perfectionis,t and it seems that changing melody, tempo and arrangements is fair game.
As she takes “’Ex-Factor”’ to a different planet from the global phenomenon that we have all heard, the audience round me don’t notice that she has reworked the structure, moved the verses and chorus around, and is singing in a completely different tempo. They keep on squalling the like a seagull looking at an infant with a fish supper, to what they have heard a million times. All while filming themselves on snapchat. They all cheated themselves.
It’s the same with ‘Everything is Everything’, they didn’t listen they just screamed to what they were believed they were hearing and not actually what they were hearing. But, you pay your money. Who am I to shake my head and act all grumpy and insisting that they should be appreciating what Hill is creating in that moment and not reliving a recorded version that soundtracked their life?
Hill revisits her Fugee life. A flawless “Killing Me Softly” is delivered and the final assault is a jacked up ‘Ready or Not’. By this time the show has run over curfew and the houselights are switched on as the song starts. All this does is add to the moment and it is one of the best things I have seen at the Hydro.
The lights go on and the upper tier seating reacts as if they’ve been hiding in the kitchen at a party and they have been dragged through to the living room to join in but actually decide they want to be the life and soul. It was a scene of mass dancing.
Hill signals to her band to bring the song to the close as two of her kids join her on stage to have a bit of a dance. I was, perhaps, fortunate that I wasn’t so emotionally attached to the album that I had no expectations of what was going to happen on the night.
Whatever was going to happen, wasn’t going to disappoint me either way. What I didn’t expect was to walk out the venue being blown away by an artist who is rightly lauded as a genius. Will I revisit the album with fresh ears now? No. I’m almost certain that I saw a version that will never be beaten.
Listen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast