Ms Lauryn Hill, Brixton Academy, gig review: Latecomer has lost her groove

No performer wants to retread old hits note-for-note, and audiences should respect new spins; but add the fact that the sound quality is terrible, loud to the point of distortion, and this is a mess

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The Independent Culture

Keeping a crowd waiting may be standard-issue diva behaviour, but when even your hype DJ – after 45 minutes of spinning tunes and ineffectually whooping – gives up, you know you’re trouble.

Lauryn Hill was booed before she even reached the stage on Saturday night. Once there, the R&B star – who, after a recent stint in jail for tax avoidance, is usually prefaced “troubled” – did little to win her fans back.

The crowd were hungry for the hits – partly, because she has little else. After The Fugees, Hill released only one record – 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – and an unplugged album. But what an album The Miseducation was, bursting with attitude and rock-solid tunes. It has stridently stood the test of time – attested by the youth of much of the crowd tonight – and given the current vogue for Nineties R&B, surely ripe for revisiting.

Revisited it was – but also reinvented. A live band included a strutting guitarist, noodling jazzy keyboards; tracks are unexpectedly thrashy, and – with her insanely fast-paced but sometimes muttered vocals – hard to pin down.

Everything Is Everything” is noisy, full of chewy guitar, but woefully lacking groove. Her rapping on “Lost Ones” is finickity and fragmented – in deconstructing her hits, she seems to mislaid their melodies. Even “Ex-Factor”, greeted with a heart-sore, nostalgic roar, is curiously up-tempo, with busy percussion and screeching guitar solos, losing its mournful soul. “It ain’t working,” Hill sings – and it seems the audience agrees.

No performer wants to retread old hits note-for-note, and audiences should respect new spins; but add the fact that the sound quality is terrible, loud to the point of distortion, and this is a mess. So much so that Ms Hill even starts trending on Twitter, as fans make their disappointment known.

So when she leaves the stage after 40 minutes, there’s a collective holding-of-breath. Happily, it’s only to get an acoustic guitar – and a few unplugged tunes provide a welcome interlude, reminding of the sweet soulfulness of her voice.

Then she’s up and swaggering again – in a cap, white shirt, black leather skirt and what looks like a lab coat designed by Dr Seuss, she cuts the figure of a terrifyingly bad-ass schoolgirl. A clutch of Fugees tracks prove her voice is still in impeccable shape, when she wants to use it – she hits them high notes as easily as she spits bullet-hard, metallic-twanged raps. “Fu-Gee-La” rattles with serious sub-bass, but gets people jumping, and if “Ready or Not” doesn’t sound quite as full of fight as it should, it’s played straight enough to give people the hit of familiarity they’re here for.

After a mélange of Bob Marley covers mired by sticky timing issues, Hill concludes with “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. The sound is still terrible, but it’s a furious performance, with a stunning, slowed-down second verse rap that showcases her powerful, bombastic vocals. The crowd loves it, finally, but it still feel like too little, too late.

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