Lauryn Hill disappoints on Australian tour: 'She should have cancelled her show'

Clearly unwell, the groundbreaking artist arrived more than an hour late to an anticipated Sydney show many are demanding refunds for

Lauryn Hill’s solo debut was a defining album for people of my generation, and the artist’s Australian tour promised us pure, indulgent nostalgia: Hill would be playing the record in its entirety, to commemorate its 20th year.

Unfortunately on Thursday night in Sydney it was mainly the fans doing the singing – often at Hill’s request, when she couldn’t reach the notes.

What we mainly heard was noise, over a croaky, failing voice.

No stranger to tardiness, Hill’s tour has already drawn criticism in Europe for her late arrivals. This time, she arrived almost 90 minutes late; she was “feeling under the weather,” warned the DJ tiding us over. That turned out to be a euphemism: at times Hill looked close to fainting.

This Sydney show followed less than favourable reviews from the tour opener in Perth, where the Australian reported that her show was “plagued with production problems” and she “complained via hand gestures that her in-ear monitors were failing”.

Update: terribly disappointing Lauryn Hill concert in Sydney tonight. She started super late and she was sick! She wasn’t able to sign at all. We left earlier. 🤬

— Grace Kylie (@gracekylie) February 7, 2019

In Sydney, many are demanding refunds. “She was clearly super sick and should have cancelled her show FULL STOP,” wrote one audience member on the event’s Facebook page. “If I wanted to see back up singers and hear musical coverage over a husky sick voice, I would have gone to the local pub.”

Sydney’s show also seemed to struggle with its production, with Hill wildly gesticulating to sound people throughout. But the big issue was her illness: she seemed to grow physically sicker on stage too, apologising repeatedly and vowing to return to Sydney and “sing like a bird” when her voice was better. “I don’t think I can do the next song,” she said at one point – but gave it her best shot. Calling in sick to work must feel almost impossible when you’ve got a packed out arena that might not be available for a postponed slot.

In one of the album’s uplifting singles Everything is Everything, Hill urges, “Now hear this mixture where hip hops meets scripture”, but live its mellifluous melody was sacrificed for shouty rap. Hill bridged so many gaps in her career: a woman in a rap world dominated by men, bringing a gospel flavour to a hip hop sound, bringing a welcome melody and emotional depth to rap, clearly influenced by Motown and doo wop. But the gap between what appeared to be laryngitis and singing was a bridge too far.

Hill had almost almost lost her voice completely by the time she croaked her way through Doo Wop (That Thing), but this was the moment some of the energy came back too – and we finally saw the Lauryn Hill we were hoping for. She gave it her all, but her throat was clearly in need of respite.

Hill is due on stage in Brisbane on Sunday, before two shows in Melbourne next week. Sending good vibes to her throat between now and then.


Gary Nunn

The GuardianTramp

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