Reviewed on Tuesday May 27 (photo by Prudence Upton)
“It’s funny how money change a situation,” raps Lauryn Hill on ‘Lost Ones’. Only a few years ago there seemed no chance of the reclusive star ever performing in Australia. What a difference a hefty tax bill makes.
After waiting a full 16 years since her classic LP The Miseducation Of…, no-one seemed to mind the extra hour she kept us waiting. In fact, it was fun. DJ Rampage spun crowd-pleasing dancehall versions of Lorde and reggae crossovers from Althea & Donna and UB40. By the time the lights cut and we heard that familiar voice from offstage singing her late father-in-law Bob Marley’s ‘Soul Rebel’, the audience was more than ready.
Things change, things stay the same. The voice was perhaps a touch huskier than before, but the striking tone was still unmistakably Ms. Hill’s. Wearing an all-black ensemble of jumpsuit, ludicrous cape and wide-brimmed hat, the image of a beautiful street-smart kid from The Refugee Crew seemed an age ago. This diva had matured into hip-hop’s Nina Simone – who was later name-checked in a highlight version of ‘Ready Or Not’. Conducting her band throughout the show, we were left in no doubt as to who was the boss.
While it was great to hear ‘Ex-Factor’ and ‘Killing Me Softly’, anyone expecting faithful reproductions and recognisable arrangements had a right to be disappointed. Most were given a reggae or rocksteady makeover; ‘Everything Is Everything’ quickened from its ELO organ intro to a headache-inducing tempo. Some were overworked – too fast, too fussy – and a mid-show acoustic interlude of ‘Oh Jerusalem’ and ‘Mr. Intentional’ was welcome. It seemed to focus the artist for a more cohesive second half of the show.
Hill proved that time hasn’t withered her ability to spit – the exquisite sample of The Flamingos’ ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ ushered in ‘Zealots’ (the three backing singers harmonising, “Another MC lose his life tonight”) and a medley of hits from Hill’s time with The Fugees. Closer ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was played straighter – joyously – and demonstrated that genuine classics are probably best left untouched.