Oddly enough, my formal introduction to Lauryn Hill’s music was in my formal eduction. A lovable, slight eccentric, women studies professor opened a class with the music video for ‘Everything is Everything’. The point, obvious enough, was to remind us that everything is everything and to continually examine the interconnections between issues. For the remaining thirty-five minutes, I tried to recall why Lauryn Hill looked so familiar. It eventually hit me: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.
The bad attitude teen with the voice of an angel. After class, I returned home and annoyed my roommates for the next month by continually playing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and sometimes playing MTV Unplugged 2.0.
The point of all this personal rambling: I was so excited to see Lauryn Hill. That introduction transpired in October 2013. Sixteen years after the release of her studio album. Obviously I was a late blooming fan, but to me the music had come out in 2013, not 1998. This regretful oversight discloses an important expectation of seeing Lauryn Hill in concert. I expected a performance of the songs featured on the albums, after all it did win her five grammy awards.
Despite all these optimistic expectations, Lauryn Hill’s performance at the Theatre Olympia began badly. The opening DJ started at the listed time for Lauryn Hill and although the set featured some amazingly classic hip-hop and rap, the DJ minced it all up into a fragmented mess. Tolerance may have formed if the set had lasted half an hour. Instead, the DJ pretended to end his set at least four times before actually finishing. It lasted for an hour. Bodies shoulder to shoulder, slick skin to slick skin.
Montreal’s temperature averages around 26˚C per day. Theatre De L’Olympia felt like 100 degrees and it only increased. At the very back of the theatre, annoyance beaded and dripped down foreheads. It didn’t help that once the DJ was finally over, Lauryn Hill’s band trickled onto stage like cats called out of sunshine. Meandering and sound-checking with so relaxed, it appeared careless. Adding to this was Lauryn Hill singing from off stage to begin the performance, all while the band made signals for the audience to cheer louder and louder. A pet peeve developed while this occurred. Yes, Lauryn Hill is famous and more so for the controversy that surrounds her, yet she was performing 2 hours late on a Monday. When the cheering was apparently satisfying, she emerged dressed in red, white and blue. She dawdled into a peculiar, jazz infused, rendition of Killing me Softly. The original showcases her dreamy voice, but the performance was all about the guitar work. When she wasn’t singing, Lauryn Hill was kicking up her heels frantically and rapidly pointing to various instruments on the stage.
Everything is Everything followed in the same fashion. A slightly bizarre remix that muffled the amazing originality of mixing soulful vocals with skillful rap and a simple beat. Throughout the performance, the instrumentals and back-up singers constantly overshadowed Lauryn Hill’s singing. Lauryn Hill seemed rather checked out, sometimes she would say how happy she was to be in Montreal but the lackluster energy of her performance didn’t support the claim.
The songs were sporadic in rendition and in transition with the band and Lauryn Hill segueing from one to another. It was only when Lauryn Hill rapped those delicious parts of songs where the audience got a flash of the energy once possessed. How Many Mics was spit with a ferocity that lit up the venue. Unfortunately it seems to be a fading flicker.