Given all the controversy surrounding Lauryn Hill’s behaviour when it comes to her live performances, a fan has full reason to be worried. Lauryn Hill, rebranded Ms. Lauryn Hill, has been absent from the stage for more than 10 years. Last summer marked her comeback when a song titled “Repercussions” went viral in July. Soon after, she announced that she would be a special guest on the “Rock the Bells Tour”, whereon she would perform “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in its original form and in its entirety. Or so we thought. Reviews after the first show blasted Ms. Lauryn Hill for having been hours late for her set, and reported re-arrangements of her songs that made them unrecognizable to those listening. Fans were not happy.
Lo and behold, a few months later Hill announced a North American tour. Even though fans were unhappy, her Toronto Sound Academy show sold out in less than half an hour; many were lucky enough to grab a ticket in time and pay the cool price of $61 (plus service charges, mind you), while many had to deal with scalpers asking for hundreds of dollars per ticket. No matter how one got a ticket, although there were mixed reviews and mixed emotions, there was a lot of excitement for the show that marked Ms. Lauryn Hill’s comeback to Toronto.
The night started off with a little bit of confusion. It was -20 degrees outside, and the tickets said doors opened at 8 p.m. Many diehard fans arrived around 7, expecting to be somewhat early given the weather, and being let in at 8. Nope. Doors had actually been set to open at 9, so those who had arrived early waited outside for two hours. After the wait outside came the three-hour wait inside for Hill’s set to begin.
It was 11:30 when DJ Rampage stepped out and began to warm up the crowd with various rap and reggae hits. Then he announced, “I’ll let you know one thing: Ms. Lauryn Hill is in the house!” It had only been a four-and-a-half-hour wait, but it was finally coming; she was in the building!
Midnight marked the moment. First, her 11-man band and backup singers came out and started jamming. Moments later out she stepped, dressed in an African-inspired tunic and black trousers, with rows of necklaces hanging from her neck and rows of bangles from her arms. She said, “It’s been a long time, Toronto,” and the night began. She started by blessing the crowd with a rendition of “Forever Loving Jah”, which for some was an awkward start to the night.
Then Hill said, “We’re going to do some classics; some of these we have reworked a bit. What you remember, you sing along with.” The key phrase here was “a bit”. Plenty of reviewers have said that Hill reworked her songs to the point that fans would no longer be able to recognize them, but these reviewers must not have been the type of fans that listened to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” at least once a week since its release. Admittedly, all of Hill’s songs had been reworked. “Lost Ones” started off the classics with a new rendition that seemed to be inspired by alternative rock melodies. New guitar solos were added and vocals sped up, but all songs were recognizable, and very much enjoyable.
After “Lost Ones”, Hill continued with “When It Hurts So Bad” and progressed with a 15-minute version of “Ex-Factor”. Hill is a gifted performer, and although many fans were expecting to hear her classics in their original forms, Hill used her performance of “Ex-Factor” to show that she was the same Lauryn Hill, but with a new and improved “oomph”. The 15-minute rendition had both aspects of new and old that Hill wanted to incorporate. The first few minutes had a sped-up melody that set the tone, but the chorus had the same soothing feel that allowed fans to sing along. For the last few minutes Hill slowed it all down and belted out the chorus like she would have in 1998. It was inspiration for the ears, and at that moment, fans started dropping like flies.
Hill finished off the first set with “Final Hour” and “To Zion”. Taking a tiny break, Hill exited the stage, and DJ Rampage started a familiar song; it was none other than “Turn Your Lights Down Low”. Hill re-entered, took over the song and continued to take over the stage. She then moved into singing several of The Fugees’ classics. Hesitant fans turned their frowns upside down and were finally game. With hands consistently in the air, fans sang along to her hour-long tribute to The Fugees, which included “How Many Mics”, a cover of The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “Zealots”, “Fu-Gee-La”, “Ready or Not”, and of course “Killing Me Softly”.
Using the hanky she held onto all night, Hill wiped her face of the sweat that slowly dripped down, and to end, she jokingly addressed the crowd: “I’ll be back for you, Toronto—maybe not for all, but for some.” The night ended with an enthusiastic girl/guy sing-off of “Doo-Wop”. After waiting the years, then the hours outside, and then the hours inside, it was now all over. Although some left with mixed feelings about the performance, it certainly seems that most of Toronto is ready for some more Ms. Lauryn Hill in the future.