Lauryn Hill must really hate the music that catapulted her career.
Because from the moment this diva took the Fillmore Auditorium stage on Friday night, she clearly had no intention of performing anything the crowd would recognize.
Sure, her lineup included such seminal hits as “Everything Is Everything” and the classic Fugees cover of “Killing Me Softly.” But Hill so thoroughly rearranged all of the songs into calypso-funk-scat mash-ups that she essentially presented new material. (Why one would rearrange a previously-rearranged cover as she did with “Killing Me Softly” is in itself a head-scratcher.)
Many artists grow tired on their early-career catalogue. But to simply ignore fans’ desire to revisit memories and milestones marked best by the music of that bygone era, smacks of vanity and disconnectedness. Frankly, an entertainer’s job is to give the people what they came for, and make them smile. When that work is done, go ahead and try to wow them with your stuff. But fail to hook the crowd from the start and you may get what Hill did on Friday night: A restless room and even a few… boos.
The first sign that something was askew arrived toward the end of co-headliner Nas’ heady, engaging set. Touring behind this year’s release “Life Is Good,” the prolific Queens-born lyricist moved deftly through old and new material with help from a large band and documentary-style video flickering at the back of the stage. Crowd faves included “N.Y. State of Mind,” “Daughters” and “Shoot ‘Em Up.”
He also did, at least in part, the genre classic “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” a 1996 track that is perhaps most recognizable for Lauryn Hill’s haunting, crystalline chorus; harsh words and ideas wrapped in the sweetness of a mother’s lullaby. But when Nas delivered that song in Denver on Friday, he relied on a backup singer from his crew – not co-headliner Ms. Hill, who wouldn’t take the stage for about another 90 minutes – to perform those lyrics. To borrow the words of a fellow concertgoer: “That just doesn’t make sense.”
Hill still brings a commanding presence to the stage. She looks and sounds gorgeous and strong, and for this tour she assembled an impressive pool of singers and musicians. She surely gave this crowd an eclectic show characterized by a global sonic scope. It just may not have been the show that people expected to see.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a new contributor to Reverb.
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.