Winnipeg has been waiting a long time for Lauryn Hill.
The former Fugees frontwoman has never played a gig here, not even in the years following the release of her landmark 1998 solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill — a career-defining album that sold over 18 million copies, nabbed five Grammy awards and firmly established Ms. Hill as a vital voice in hip hop (her work with the Fugees notwithstanding).
So it’s understandable that the 1,900 Winnipeg fans that packed the Centennial Concert Hall on Monday night were eager to see the woman that reinvented Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly with the Fugees in 1996. They were even remarkably forgiving of a lengthy delay (hey, they’d been waiting 13 years — what was another hour and a half?)
The capital-D Diva was worth the wait. When she finally took the stage at 11:10 p.m., the crowd roared its approval. Kicking things off with a soulful rendition of Everything is Everything off Miseducation, Hill proved she’s lost none of the sass or grit that made her famous (her vocals are just as deliciously raspy and room-filling as ever). She’s still also one of the best rappers in the biz, as evidenced on a spitfire version of Lost Ones which blended seamlessly into the powerhouse When It Hurts So Bad.
Many of songs in the hour-and-a-half long set, which was largely drawn from Miseducation, were reworked into loose, jammy medleys. While this might have disappointed fans looking to hear the hits as they appear on that now-classic album, the through-the-roof-energy of Hill and her incendiary 11-piece backing band helped to breathe new life into those much-loved songs.
"How many Fugees fans do we have in the house tonight?" she asked (make that demanded) before launching into the band’s thunderous anthem How Many Mics off of the Fugees’ acclaimed final album, 1996’s The Score. If she didn’t already have the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, she did then. The night’s other highlights included the propulsive piano-based ballad To Zion and, of course, a punch-packing take on Killing Me Softly, which was transformed into a sweat-slicked R&B vocal workout.
The show came to a dizzying climax with an impossibly energetic Hill’s biggest hit Doo Wop (That Thing) which exploded into a raucous full-band jam session.
"We gotta do this again real soon, Winnipeg," the singer said before she left the stage.
We’re going to hold you to that, Ms. Hill. Hopefully the wait won’t be so long next time.
Opening act The Hot 8 Brass Band (New Orleans) lived up to its name with bombastic, brassy jazz/reggae-infused jams that had no shortage of sizzle — specifically the explosive 10 minute-plus version of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. Local R&B up-and-comer Flo got the evening started with a short but scorching set.
Jen Zoratti is the staff music writer at Uptown Magazine.
May 30, 2011
Centennial Concert Hall
Four stars out of 5