Review: Ms. Lauryn Hill at the Pageant in St. Louis, January 16
Ms. Lauryn Hill's difficult reputation precedes her. She shows up for most shows way past the scheduled start time. (And that's if she shows up at all.) She's been known to berate crowds which heckle her -- and she's radically reinvented many of her best-known songs, so much so that they're almost unrecognizable. (And that's not even counting performances that might charitably be described as "shaky.") In other words, being a Hill fan is often a frustrating proposition.
Anyone expecting a trainwreck last night at the Pageant would come away mighty disappointed, however. Hill's concert was incredible.
Yes, incredible. First, the build-up to her appearance onstage - which occurred at 11:52 p.m., a little over 50 minutes after the supposed start time - had just the right amount of anticipation. As DJ Rampage merrily spun hits in the background, her band casually sauntered onstage: two guitarists, two keyboardists, two bassists and a drummer. A few minutes later, three female backup singers assembled themselves in a row. And then ten minutes after that, Ms. Lauryn Hill, her hair arranged in a close-cropped, helmet-like afro, emerged from backstage.
The crowd went absolutely berserk at the sight of the 35-year-old, who was sporting a smart cream-colored tailored pantsuit over a dark brown shirt. Notably, Hill also wore a shrug that had a gigantic fur collar; it kept slipping off her shoulders, but she kept it on all night. Immediately, she announced her intentions for the concert: "We're going to do old music in new ways."
And that she did, for the first half of the show. "When It Hurts So Bad" featured prominent watery piano and a tortured, scorching guitar solo in the middle, while the laid-back hip-hop of "Lost Ones" morphed into a hyperactive soul-funk revue. An early highlight, "Final Hour," was even more ferocious; it became an amped-up rap-rock song. Hill spat the lyrics furiously and at dizzying speed. (Eat her dust, Nicki Minaj.)