Lauryn Hill review – Miseducation reconfigured with curfew-busting floss

SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Two chequered decades since her era-defining album, the queen of neo-soul’s uncompromising performance ends on an unexpected note

When your approach to timekeeping has become so laissez-faire even the French consider it rude, perhaps things have gone too far. Two days before the arena tour marking the 20th anniversary of her debut solo album arrived in the UK, Lauryn Hill tweeted an apology to fans in Paris and Brussels who were distinctly nonplussed after waiting two hours for a truncated set. Considering the fractious response to her last UK dates in 2014, it seemed like a portent of potential disappointment, even if anyone who worships the queen of neo-soul must by now surely expect, or even desire, a little sovereign slowness.

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was an era-defining album, its five Grammys and extraordinary sales (now pushing 20m) confirming that Hill’s decision to eject from the globe-conquering Fugees was, at the time, the correct one. If the two decades since have been chequered – involving lawsuits over musical authorship, the barest trickle of new material and even jail time for tax evasion – it all feeds into the idea of Hill as the most authentic of voices, an artist unwilling to play the usual oily corporate game.

On a chilly Friday night in Glasgow, the advertised stage times remain diplomatically vague but with an 11pm curfew, the fact that the star takes the stage at 10pm causes a ripple of concern, not least because The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is almost 80 minutes long. But rather than stick religiously to the record’s running order, Hill – resplendent in red tartan dress, dramatic black trench coat and bulbous purple hat – scythes off a few tracks and lightly reshuffles what remains, wisely holding the evergreen hit Doo Wop (That Thing) in reserve for the final phase.

Her four-piece rhythm section – bulked out by a roving MC and a trumpet player – pump out a booming backing that lands somewhere between muscular and muddy. If it seems a little removed from the warm finesse of the record, Hill’s strident vocals and the characterful interplay of her three backing singers anchor these 2018 readings to the originals. Forgive Them Father retains its beefy, stripped-down skank, while Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You spins off into a victory lap of just bass, harmonies and 808 drum pads.

After praising the “beautiful complexity” of the world, Hill sails past the curfew to play Killing Me Softly, the Fugees smash that so effectively reframed Roberta Flack for a (then) contemporary audience. She reconfigures the familiar opening verse seemingly on the fly, which is an impressive showcase for her swooping, scatting vocal verve but also has the side effect of sabotaging any attempted singalong.

A minute or so into the other Fugees megahit Ready or Not, its signature bassline still sounding like ominous whalesong, all the arena house lights abruptly come on, adding a new layer of meaning to the refrain “you can’t hide”. It is a strange finale for an otherwise uncompromising performance but ends on a joyous note, with Hill joined by two of her younger children who unexpectedly break out some fluid Fortnite dance moves. Their floss is our gain.

• At Manchester Arena, 26 November. Then touring UK until 3 December.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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