Even though she only came into the family through her longtime relationship with Rohan Marley, Lauryn Hill made a strong case for being one of the true heirs to Bob Marley’s musical legacy Monday night at First Avenue.
The former Fugees star and ‘90s hip-hop heroine – who went a decade between gigs in the ‘00s -- offered a clearer view of her post-hiatus artistic vision in her second First Ave show this decade, a vision heavily tinted with Marley’s influence. And I’m not talking about the polished mellow-cool Marley you hear on Cities 97. I’m referring to the more electric, free-form, spiritually guided Bob Marley & the Wailers you hear in live recordings, where it sounds like the lead rastaman was voraciously feeding off the crowd’s vibrations and seeking to take fans to a higher place than even the highest earthly high allows.
Hill’s performance offered some lows with the highs, but the 39-year-old admirably followed that off-the-cuff, stay-on-target pattern throughout the 100-minute set. And she certainly had plenty of energy fed to her from Monday’s sold-out crowd.
Her band was already jammin’ as she walked out – only 45 minutes past her scheduled start time -- wearing a giant, Laura Ingalls Wilder-gone-Jamaican sun hat. She seemed taken aback when the audience cheered her for a good 30 seconds solid after she took the stage. The cheers grew louder and louder until the show reached its first crest about 20 minutes in with sped-up, rocked-out versions of “To Zion” and “Lost Ones,” standout tracks from 1998’s classic album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
After about a three-minute break filled in by her band, Hill returned with an acoustic guitar in hand and sat down. The unplugged set never quite matched the majesty of the first segment, and the audience stayed loud in a bad way, talking through “Mr. Intentional” and “Oh Jerusalem.” Things livened up right away, though, when she put down her guitar and asked (rhetorically), “Do we have any Fugees fans?”
And with that, Hill and the band tore through “Zealots,” “How Many Mics,” “Ready or Not” and the pre-encore finale “Killing Me Softly With His Song” with nary a stop between songs, resulting in another big high. The Marley-ization turned literal in the encore as she led the band through a string of his songs, including “Jammin’,” “Satisfy My Soul” and “Could You Be Loved,” all soaked in Hill's own soulful branding and never falling into a trite tribute mode. They finished with Hill’s own mega-hit, “Doo Wop (That Thing),” adding a reggae-fied rock tone even to that one.
All told, Monday’s performance was a lot more solid than the First Ave show in 2011, suggesting Hill truly is ready for a bona-fide comeback -- but she's probably going to rock the boat when she does and not just go back to the way it was.