Ms. Lauryn Hill at First Avenue, 6/30/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
Ms. Lauryn Hill
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, June 30, 2014

The legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill graced First Avenue last night with a full band in tow and an incredible career-spanning set. Playing for over two hours, she divided her set into sections that covered material from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her Unplugged acoustic album, Fugees classics, and a whole portion devoted to Bob Marley. She was a sight to behold, and put on one of the best shows of the year so far.

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Photo by Erik Hess
About an hour after doors opened a DJ took to the stage to start spinning a variety of records, from reggae standards, to rap throwbacks from DMX and Jay-Z, to various funk, soul, and R&B. It was a good way to introduce Lauryn's set, which maintained the same hybridized sense of genre exploration. Soon the band took stage and the mighty Ms. Hill jumped into the first of what would be several Bob Marley covers, a rousing rendition of "Soul Rebel" that seamlessly transformed into a reggae-infused version of "Killing Me Softly."

Looking stunning in a flowing black dress and a fantastically large hat, Lauryn stood radiant and confident, dancing and making subtle conducting gestures to the guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and trio of back-up singers. Her role as bandleader could be heard throughout the set, as nearly every song went through multiple genre and tempo changes without missing a beat. As the band flipped sections around, Lauryn pushed her presence forward and gave a very strong vocal performance.

Photo by Erik Hess
Songs from Miseducation sounded amazing with the full band presence, who didn't simply amplify the album's production but really progressed songs in entirely new directions. The swing of a song would switch drastically in the middle, but not once did Ms. Hill falter in terms of where her voice sat in the mix. She hit every note and every beat exactly where it should be, even if it required rapping verses at what felt like twice the speed after the song's change-up.

She displayed incredible vocal chops across the board, nailing tongue-twister rhymes better than nearly anyone I've seen live and hitting harmonies with real power. Little details like blocking how close she should be to the microphone to shifting subtly from singing to rap showed just how talented Lauryn Hill is on multiple fronts.

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