Extra innings doesn’t seem to fully fit as a metaphor describing Ms. Lauryn Hill’s sprawling set at the Ogden Theatre on Sunday. While the flow felt inconsistent at first, as it raced along and only found its feet at times, by midnight — 90 minutes in at this point — Hill clicked. Starting in on amped up versions of Fugees hits and covers, she opened up like a ball player who suddenly can’t miss. The metaphor falls apart because when the home team comes back at the end the game is over. But on Sunday, after she found her stride, Hill dominated for another hour.
The big stage setup included reflective pillars and a large circle projection screen surrounded by smart lights. To match the spectacle on stage, Hill’s full band included all the requirements for reproducing the many sounds and shapes of her detailed repertoire: Backup singers (“my ladies”), a thick rhythm section, rock guitar and keyboards, plus the DJ stand where the whole set kicked off.
Starting with some warm up tracks from TLC to Bob Marley, the DJ stretched a little bit while the stage hands dealt with some technical something or other by the drums. Then the stage filled up as “Soul Rebel” started. Hill’s unmistakable voice came through the speakers as she waited to enter. The music was loud and fast, and she came out blasting a dub version of “Killing Me Softly.” Her large, straw hat with the Rastafarian Lion of Judah prominently displayed gave her some cover from the hot lights and curious eyes of her fans. Hill went through fast, updated versions of songs from “Miseducation…,” looking uncomfortable at times, but never missing a beat. She was constantly giving level directions to the sound folks, pointing at different band members and gesturing to different monitors, smoothly yet frustratedly at times asking for more or less volume. Excuse the continuing baseball thread, but she often resembled a third base coach giving hand signals at lightning speed.
After leaving the stage for a quick second, she roared through “Lost Ones” and “Ex-Factor” with a little more kinetic power. She took out one of her ear monitors and seemed more intense. This portion ended in a wild guitar solo that Hill was hyping and seemed like a sort of release for her.
Then, with her hat gone, she set up her stool for the “Unplugged” songs. Her classical guitar playing made her seem as exposed as her short hair and added a layer of control for Hill. She started in on songs a little slower now and really worked the band. By the time she hit the last notes of “Turn Your Lights Down Low” she looked comfortable. Now she was running every last thing on that stage. The energy only grew, but it seemed to smooth out. This is where it turned on.
The Fugees songs were again retooled like the rest, featuring Hill’s incredible speed and control of the lyrics. She was now able to draw in and dial down the band, conducting them flawlessly while destroying the mic. All band members (the entire set, but especially now) had their eyes permanently glued on Ms. Hill. She governed every beat, every harmony, every chord change. The pocket they all fell into was palpable as they were able to predict and react with increasing faith in each other. When Ms. Hill finally got to a late set cover of Bob Marley’s “Jammin,” she was reiterating the obvious. We be jammin’.
Unfortunately for some of the audience, this late climax came literally too late in the evening and the crowd began to thin. They missed the highlight of the set, however, when Hill felt the urge to sing Nancy Sinatra’s version of Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” in an improvised zag that surprised and delighted the band. It all ended with a huge take on “Doo Wop” where Hill remixed original pieces of the album recording with live instruments on whims. She subtly replaced the ‘yeah yeah’ hook with ‘Den Ver’ at times. She brought it down for sultry R&B and brought it up to raucous soul. It exploded at the end and she thanked the fans and the band with equal reverence. It was just a couple of minutes before 1:00am. Whatever has Hill going for it with everything she’s got right now (a new album? a new project?), it came together and gave the Ogden an utmost powerful and dynamic performance.
Soul Rebel (intro)
Killing Me Softly Dub
Everything Is Everything
Adam Lives in Theory
Turn Your Lights Down Low
Only Have Eyes/Zealots
How Many Mics
Ready or Not
Killing Me Softly
Waiting in Vain
Could You Be Loved
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat and is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Vy Pham is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.
Dylan Langille is a Fort Collins-based photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his photos here.