Ms. Lauryn Hill The Observatory 11/5/15
How many people could announce a show on a week's notice, charge $50-65 a ticket, not go on until 11 p.m. (on a Thursday) and still pack the Observatory in Santa Ana? Well, probably a lot fewer when you add in the qualifier of "hasn't put out a studio album since 1998," but that's exactly what Ms. Lauryn Hill did.
The beginning of Hill's set consisted of the former Fugee sitting and strumming an acoustic guitar in front of her backing band (comprised of roughly a dozen superb musicians, including everything from horns to backup singers). The initial portion consisted of soulful versions of "Conformed to Love," "I Gotta Find Peace of Mind," "The Mystery of Iniquity," and more, each bringing a different style and flair to a classic song.
By the time Hill worked her way through the first handful of songs, it was clear that even two decades after she broke onto the hip-hop scene with the Fugees, the New Jersey native is still one of the most talented performers to ever hold a microphone. Considering her relatively limited catalog (only because she never released a third album), Hill showed her ability to perform stunning renditions of her (and others') tracks in different styles.
Without stopping the performance for a second, Hill conducted her full band to various stops, volume and tempo changes, and mid-song audibles relatively flawlessly. As if that weren't enough, the band didn't just provide Hill with one style of backing music, but dropped Caribbean influences into some tracks and plenty of Motown into others. At first, much of the crowd seemed surprised and borderline unappreciative of the level of clear talent they were seeing (perhaps they were expecting The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill all over again), but as Hill shifted the set from seated to standing (and dancing), the atmosphere of the room changed.
Her floor-length shiny dress flowing out from under her black hoodie, the second segment of Hill's performance began with "Ex-Factor" and included other crowd favorites like "Lost Ones" and the Fugees' "How Many Mics," "Fu-Gee-La," "Ready or Not," and "Killing Me Softly." Aside from demonstrating that she wouldn't be confining herself to only her parts in her old group's songs, Hill also showed that she could still rap as well as anyone (and probably still has the capability to beat most modern rappers in a fight to the death).
Following her mini Fugees set, Hill decided to do a few covers of the man who is both a musical icon and the grandfather to most of her children: Bob Marley. Hill performed her take on four songs by the legend, including "Jammin'" and "Is This Love," once again showing off her reggae chops to go along with every other soulful musical style she'd flashed over the course of the night.
Although the clock begin to creep toward 12:30 a.m., no one in the crowd looked terribly tired as Hill closed her set out with "Feeling Good" and an extended version of "Doo Wop (That Thing."
In the end, Hill only stopped to talk to the crowd a few times over her 90-minute set, and they were primarily just to thank everyone for coming out and to ask for applause for the band (who totally deserved the love).
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Despite everything else she's become known for, one thing has always been clear: Lauryn Hill would be one of the most talented performers in any generation. Had she been around in the '60s, Hill would've likely been known as a great Motown singer. In an alternate timeline, maybe she's a major reggae star or an incredibly powerful blues legend. Hill happened to make a name for herself in hip hop, but she's a once-in-a-generation talent for any genre, and you're missing out if you never get to see her.
Set List Conformed to Love I Gotta Find Peace of Mind Mr. Intentional War in the Mind (Freedom Time) The Mystery of Iniquity Ex-Factor Final Hour Lost Ones How Many Mics Fu-Gee-La Ready or Not Forever Loving Jah Jammin' Is This Love Could You Be Loved Feeling Good Doo Wop (That Thing)