Lauryn Hill’s sets may still be based in old songs, but the songs that the hip-hop legend and her ace backing band burned through at Bonnaroo on Saturday night (June 14) sounded anything but familiar.
For a live act known for her inconsistency, the Bonnaroo performance from Hill (billed as Ms. Lauryn Hill) began ominously. Faced with a last-minute stage switch, Hill’s starting time of 9 p.m. came and went with the sets and backline less than halfway constructed. The crowd stayed positive, with on-and-off chants of “Lauryn Hill!” soundtracking the assembly. By 9:30 p.m., Hill and company were ready to go.
The 39-year-old was in top form for the set’s first half, as Hill got the crowd bouncing and hand-waving along with striking renditions of (mostly) “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” cuts interjected with reggae, jam-heavy rock and virtuosic, rapid-fire rapping. Sidestage, a rotating cast of interpreters somehow kept up with Hill, conveying every word in sign language. After dominating with tracks like “To Zion,” “Ex-Factor” and “Lost Ones,” the set hit a temporary lull as Hill switched to acoustic for a rendition of “Mr. Intentional.”
Fortunately for Hill, she still had another hip-hop classic in her back pocket. “Bonnaroo, do we have Fugees fans in the building?” she screamed, before jumping into a sweep that included “Zealots,” “How Many Mics,” “Fu-Gee-La,” “Ready Or Not” and “Killing Me Softly,” complete with Wyclef Jean and Pras’ verses. To cap off the set, Hill returned to her Grammy-winning 1998 solo classic with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” sending the crowd into one final frenzy.
For those who have followed Hill since the 90s, it’s certainly frustrating to see her tour with no flicker of a new album. But for those too young to remember the days when neo-soul was all the rage (and for those who can, but still love the classics), Hill’s recent live resurgence is certainly welcome — and especially on a night like this, when she and her band were in top form.