Lauryn Hill
Music Farm
Jan. 12

After hearing of three-hour delays and lackluster sound at recent Lauryn Hill concerts, I was slightly apprehensive about her show at the Music Farm this week. It didn’t seem possible for her to do much wrong, but the recent reports have been iffy.

At 10 p.m., the Farm was already packed. Aside from the brief chanting of “We want Lauryn!” by a few girls near the stage, most everyone seemed at ease and content to wait for the expected unhurried arrival.

The lights started flashing and the DJ came on stage at 11 p.m. to “warm it up.” He kicked it off with “Kick in the Door” by Notorious B.I.G. and wove a strong mix with Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube’s “Check Yourself,” and a few tracks from Jay-Z’s Black Album.

The set kept the crowd active and unified with well-known sing-alongs by DMX and Naughty by Nature, followed by Nas with “If I Ruled the World” and “Flashing Lights” by Kanye. The DJ closed it out (and “took it back to elementary school”) with “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe. The crowd was kept nodding and with hands in the air throughout.

At 11:30 p.m., two bassists, three guitarists, a drummer, two guys on synth/electronics, and three back-up singers joined the DJ. A few minutes later, Hill finally stepped out.

Immediately energetic and receptive to the crowd, Hill started into “We’ll be Forever Loving Jah,” and the band followed with a solid groove and sweet harmonies. She had no hesitation, and her movements were gracefully ecstatic.

Hill explained that she intended to perform some reworked classics and then jumped into a fierce up-tempo version of “Lost Ones.” Continuing with tracks off of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she followed with “When it Hurts so Bad.” After her smooth vocal beginning of the song, the band started rocking. The expansive range of the ensemble was evident as the song developed and the three guitar players traded wailing solos. The beat dissolved into something simpler, and Hill told the band to “keep going, keep going” as she flowed into “Ex Factor.”

Then came “Final Hour,” with an intense, darker feel. The backup singers and Hill created intricate layers through repetition of the “you can get the money, you can get the power” chorus. At the end of this Miseducation flashback, the audience seemed more than content with the reworked songs. She consistently addressed Charleston during songs and in interludes, including telling us to “be real to each other.”

I would have liked to hear a couple of mellow songs from Miseducation, but Hill didn’t go there. With a 12-piece band, “To Zion” or “Tell Him” could have been so lush, but she was in the mood to rock.

Hill took it back even further with covers of tracks from the Fugees album The Score. “How Many Mics,” “Zealots,” and “Fu-Gee-La” were energetic and had people dancing all over the place. Before “Ready or Not” she asked for the lights to be dimmed and for people to raise lighters and cell phones. After that bonding moment, the obvious next song was “Killing Me Softly.”

Hill left the stage afterward, but the band stayed and started into “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” during which she returned. Before concluding with “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill thanked Charleston for the lovely time and the intimate space, and said she wanted to do it again sometime. The audience adored her. She welcomed and reciprocated the love.

I had hoped to hear something newer from Hill, or even something less familiar from her MTV Unplugged session. But the experience of her performance was still worth the investment. Even though the songs were older and “reworked,” she has just as much passion and intensity as she did from the start. Whatever she’s working out by performing these songs, it’s authentic and inviting. And the people in the audience were feeling her musical offerings as strongly as ever.