Although many people are scared to admit it, in recent years, Lauryn Hill has become notorious for being an awful performer. Whether showing up hours late or singing with a cracked voice, Ms. Hill horror stories abound. At this point expecting a decent live set from her is like expecting a new Lauryn Hill album.
The first half of her show was just as awful as you might guess. She did sped-up versions of songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and struggled to keep up with her band. James Brown used to do sped-up versions of his songs too, but his songs were properly adjusted for tempo. Lauryn’s just sounded rushed.
That old L-Boogie confidence was M.I.A. throughout her set. She constantly made gestures at her band, telling them to turn it up or slow it down, as if they didn’t have a routine already figured out. When she sang, her voice was not like the one we remember: It was rough and weary instead of rich and smooth. When she moved around the stage, she shuffled her feet but never moved her hips.
When it came to confidence, Lauryn Hill was always head and shoulders above her female emcee counterparts because her self-worth came from impeccable rap skills, not an inflated sense of sexuality. But for much of the show, Ms. Hill spit out rhymes with no sense of timing or rhythm.
Yet all hope wasn’t lost. The catharsis that could not be found on material from her searing solo debut finally came through during renditions of “Fu-Gee-La," “Ready Or Not,” and “Killing Me Softly” from The Fugees’ 1996 album, The Score. Maybe after all these years, Miseducation still hits too close to home for the soul-baring artist. But The Score strikes the perfect balance—it’s legendary without being too personal for Ms. Hill. Maybe she messes up those emotionally raw Miseducation songs on purpose. After five Grammy Awards and millions of albums sold, it’s almost like she’s cursed to perform the album for the rest of her life—until she drops that sophomore disc.