Review of the Lauryn Hill Show at The Mayan Theater, Downtown Los Angeles October 18 2019 by Harriet Kaplan
Lauryn Hill is an uncompromising R&B, rap and soul artist. The multi- GRAMMY-award winner is not afraid to disappoint her fan base or dismiss those who expect to hear the songs done a certain way that made her famous in The Fugees and as a solo artist.
Over the years, she also has become more renowned for being late to her own shows to the dismay and chagrin of her most passionate and ardent followers. Yet, they still keep buying tickets! In a 2016 Facebook post, Hill wrote she did care about her fans and not showing up to perform when scheduled had to do more with aligning energy with time. Apparently, that remains a challenge to this day. Many, in fact, before a recent, intimate sold-out show of 1,700 people at The Mayan Theater in Downtown, Los Angeles on October 18th, were debating on social media, particularly on Hill’s official Facebook page, these very issues.
There were several supports acts including DJ Reborn (left), Lovejute (center) and Tara Harrison (right). All photos by Harriet Kaplan
In fact, they were right. Yes she was late, and there were those periodic speeches and what seemed like lectures from the Hill bully pulpit. Most of the same fans expressed that they rather she leave out the speeches. The venue doors opened at 8:30 p.m. and Hill and her band didn’t take to the stage until almost midnight. There as no surprise there. Hill seemed keenly aware of the discontentment and said that she is not a by-the-numbers and predictable artist. Hill finds that being original and experimenting with the delivery and arrangements of the material is what is important to her.
Hill does seem to thrive on that challenge live. She also spoke about how she had to get away from the cult of celebrity that could have swallowed her. Hill put the focus on what was important in her life: family and her evolving social and political consciousness. She also seemed to try to provoke a reaction from the crowd by asking them pointedly what was going on and wanted to address the hostile and uncertain climate in the world filled with hate versus love and tolerance and the dangerous implications of these trends.
So the question was the show worth it regardless of a tediously long wait? Celebrating the seminal and groundbreaking 20th anniversary of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album on this tour, Hill commanded the stage with her fierce and undeniable singular talent as a singer, songwriter and musician.
Hill is a serious person with many important messages she is compelled to express giving her audience a “continuing education.” It does seem like her life mission. Her outward steely reserve radiates a strength of character, conviction and integrity that just earns your respect. Vivid, compelling images from Hill’s videos, moments in history including present and past racial divides and abuses, the Civil Rights struggle and artists that Hill either worked with or was inspired by or both (notably Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone) were projected over the stage as a backdrop.
The music and songs were electric and exciting live if unusually performed. The material played seemed sped up and felt rushed. It was also marked by a free-form unconventional, improvisation style. These days, too, Hill raps more than she actually sings. Her voice sounds more raspy than smooth. Either you like these interpretations or not, or they resonate with you or not, from strong audience reaction at this show, they did. Hill was supported by a versatile, dynamic band and three soulful backup singers. 15 songs in total were performed including classics like “Lost Ones,” “Everything Is Everything,” “Forgive Them Father, “Ready Or Not” and many more.
Reggae artist Tara Harrison opened the show with an energetic and lively set of music influenced by rock, hip hop and pop. The material had a bouncy club feel to it with the sass, playful and sultry Harrison out in front. The material was ok, generic, sort of average, but Harrison was likable warm up for the main event.
Literally a newcomer, R&B and soul singer/songwriter Lovejute announced to the audience after the original songs he played on his guitar this show was his second gig! What a rush it must have been opening for Lauryn Hill not to mention an incredibly lucky break (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Lovejute has a good voice that’s his strong asset. His guitar playing won’t make other musicians run for the hills with his “scary talent” and the songs really need more work and development at this very early stage.
Finally, DJ Reborn spun songs spanning decades of music across various genres. Her energy behind the turntables and her laptop was fun and enjoyable. She was excited about the music she selected to play. You could see it in her joyful and passionate demeanor. The biggest song highlight was Bell, Biv, Devoe’s “Poison” that rocked the house and got one of the best reactions of her set. Still, she’s no DJ Battlecat who throughly wowed with two incredible sets at the recent Future X Sounds Show. DJ Reborn doesn’t seem to have the sharp instincts or ear to play one great song after another because her set suffered from some mediocre choices that were more filler than prime cuts.
Two nights before, Lauryn Hill played at the Hollywood Bowl to 18,000 fans. The Mayan Theater show was truly a rare opportunity to see this icon in a much smaller setting. Concertgoers got the full impact up close and personal of Lauryn Hill’s ever-evolving growth and fearless display of raw artistry done on her own terms.
Everything Is Everything
Forgive Them Father
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Frankie Valli cover)
I Get Out
Doo Wop (That Thing)
Killing Me Softly With His Song (Lori Lieberman cover)
Fu-Gee-La (Fugees song)
Ready or Not (Fugees song)