As part of her first tour post-prison release, Ms. Lauryn Hill returned to Washington, DC last night for a sold-out show at the Lincoln Theatre. From the sound of it, if nothing else, her musical talent is certainly rehabilitated. If what you wanted was to be transported to 1998, tough luck. From the moment she sang the first note of her opening number- some two-and-a-half hours after doors opened- Ms. Hill made it clear she was not out to regurgitate impressions from her Grammy-winning solo debut. But, few hardcore Hill fans would have been disappointed by the new arrangements she put on the songs she’s sung or we’ve spun thousands of times. The concert was raucous and upbeat, with Ms. Hill slowing down only for a rendition of Retrospect for Life. Ex-Factor flourished with a rocksteady rhythm, and she gave us life and seemed herself renewed when she and her band crashed through “Everything is Everything.” When Ms. Hill exclaimed, “change it comes eventually,” I couldn’t help but wonder if she was singing as much to herself as the troubled youth she wrote the song for over 15 years ago. Except for Ready or Not, most songs sounded entirely revamped, but this kept the audience in anticipation. Even if some were unrecognizable by just the instrumental, as soon as the lyrics came in, the crowd would raise its hands in unison, a twelve-hundred-man hail to the hits we love.
I don’t know if the show last night deserves a place on any “Best Of” lists…unless there’s a list for “Best Concerts of the People You Feared Had Really Gone Off the Deep End and Whose Talent Was Lost Forever.” Still, it was very entertaining. Sure, my attention waned as she spit a fast-paced, nearly incomprehensible flow on songs like How Many Mics? But, for the most part I was singing and dancing along for the hour-and a-half-long set. It was easy to do so by following Ms. Hill’s lead; she seemed to really be enjoying herself. There was no lecture on consumerism, and where long-winded Kanye-esque rants (or, should we be calling Kanye’s rants, “Lauryn-esque?”) would have appeared in her Unplugged days, there were instead injections of oldie-but-goodie reggae songs. During the encore, Hill sang Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved, and did a second, full version of a high-energy Killing Me Softly, which opened the show. As a fan of live music, even of songs that I don’t know well enough to sing along to, the concert ticket I bought was worth every penny, if for no other reason that I got to see a living legend back in her (new level of) prime. I have to say I’m happy for her, and thankful I made enough room in my phone to record some video. Her range isn’t as wide, but she’s still got great control over her signature singing voice, and she can still rap her ass off. If Ms. Hill comes to a city near you, I’d recommend purchasing a ticket. Get there late, though. I think a change in her punctuality is coming…eventually.