Lauryn Hill At Williamsburg Music Hall: Worst. Concert. Ever.

The moment it was announced that Lauryn Hill was doing a show at the Williamsburg Music Hall, I knew I had to go. I’d just paid rent down to my last dollar, so like a true asshole I coerced my best friend to purchase us the concert tickets by throwing my best ADHD fit until she couldn’t stand to look at me anymore. My argument was: It’s Lauryn Hill! It’s worth it!

You’ll probably agree that Hill’s 1998 debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was a hugely significant release. It sold over 18 million copies and racked up 5 Grammy Awards, it even beat out Madonna’s Ray Of Light as ‘Album of the Year’. Her worldwide commercial success confirmed what most of us already knew from her time with The Fugees – that Hill was a truly gifted hip-hop artist, one of the best.

I’d heard that Lauryn Hill was a little eccentric. Following the success of Miseducation, she went on some sort of personal exodus and disappeared for four years. If the stories are to be believed, she threw herself into Bible classes, fired her management and stopped listening to music altogether. In 2000 she came back with MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, a recording of an intimate live performance that received mixed reviews. Some critics praised it as an honest and raw representation of Hill’s emotional state, while others claimed that the songs were unfinished. Rolling Stone went as far as to describe the record as “a public breakdown”.

Which brings me to last week’s live performance by Lauryn Hill at the Williamsburg Music Hall.

We arrived half an hour early, just to be safe. It was unnecessary, though – one hour passed, two hours passed, and Ms Hill was nowhere in sight. Into the third hour of waiting, the crowd had grown hostile, to say the least. The mood in the room only lifted momentarily when an 11-piece band took the stage and played along with the DJ, we thought this was surely a sign that Ms. Hill was about to appear. Not so.

Nothing speaks louder than an artist’s relationship with their musicians, and clearly the one between Lauryn Hill and her 11-piece band is shit. Forced to stand in front of an increasingly restless crowd for 30 minutes, the band members exchanged awkward stares and even started texting each other on stage. After dealing the crowd’s protests and beer can projectiles, Lauryn Hill’s keyboard player created a paper sign that said: “We were on time.”

Meanwhile, two gorilla-like bouncers grabbed a girl by the back of the neck and slammed her to the ground. By this point Lauryn Hill was three and a half hours late.

At 1am, three back-up dancers walked on stage and the room went quiet. It was finally time. Lauryn strolled out sporting a tight afro and some flowy get up. At that point, I was expecting an excuse. Maybe her dog was hit by a lawn mower or some other horrific injury was sustained, something so tragic that it could justify the absurd time lapse. Instead, Hill responded to the crowd’s hostility by launching into a masturbatory rant that included the protest that ‘it takes a lot to get everyone in the one place,’ as if this was a concept that us mere mortals in the crowd had never dealt with before. She told us that she was worth the wait.

I’ve been to many concerts by many equally-iconic artists and to put it bluntly, I’ve never come across one who is so blindly out of touch with their fans. On stage, Ms Hill projected a landfill-sized ego. As a long-time fan, the biggest disappointment was not the time delay but rather the realization that Lauryn Hill is a complete tosser. It stung, like being dumped by a high school sweetheart.

Despite the long wait and lousy attitude, we held onto the hope that her performance would be redemptive and leave us with something fond to remember. We wanted to hear the Queen of Hip-Hop’s soulful, soaring voice. Instead we were delivered a sort of scat/rock scenario that was sort of like singing, I think – it was difficult to tell over the noise of the three electric guitars in her blaring 11-piece band.

It took me until half-way through the first song to realize that I actually knew it, I was just confused by the particular ‘remix’ that was being executed on stage. That happened with a lot of songs. Hits such as Ex Factor and To Zion were butchered to the point of being unrecognizable unless you happened to catch a few bars by the back-up singers. Many people in the audience, myself and my friend included, responded to this new sound with cautious and slightly horrified looks and, at times, nervous laughter. A few fans made the most of the show, moving from side to side as Ms. Hill waved her hands and signaled for the crowd to get into it. Not everyone, though. Some walked out.

The only words I heard clearly from Lauryn Hill that night were, “you might win some but you just lost one.” I could not sum up the evening better myself.

Stef Mitchell is an Australian photographer and writer who’s currently based in New York. Check out more of her photos and words here, here, here & here.

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48 Comments

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    I am a freelancer writer and I die hard Lauryn Hill fan who resides in St. Louis. I have been following Hill’s tour and I have got to say, I do not know what to expect. I am sorry you did not have a great experience, and I guess I’m sorta looking for some miracle to happen by the time she reaches St. Louis. My fingers are crossed.

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      OMFG, I wish I had read this article before shelling out $63 bucks each for me & my BFF to go attend the concert. Almost everything happened exactly as in the article, except for the Keyboardist’s note to the crowd.

      At least the venue pushed the door time back to 9pm, but Lauryn still didn’t come out until MIDNIGHT! WTF? Even though the pre-show DJ was rocking oldies but goodies, I sure as hell didn’t pay that much money for a club-style DJ party.

      But when Lauryn came out, her loyal fans and I greeted her with a 5 minute standing, screaming ovation. You couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I loved the racial diversity present in her huge 11 piece band. Asian guitarists, Black & biracial back up singers wearing funky fresh stilettos, a couple of white guys & a butt-lentgh dreadlocked bassist whose neck just had to be made of rubber. But that smile was soon wiped from my face, much to my slow like honey dismay as they launched into a frenetic, blaring & unfamiliar score.

      The night followed just like the featured writer’s experience, except Lauryn’s shitty rapport with her band was demonstrated by her verbal chastisement of both the keyboardist & the bassist in front of the entire audience. She showed an unyielding control over the musician’s performance that I may not have noticed if I wasn’t so utterly bored with the unfamiliar music. What I mean is, she was telling each musician (keys, guitar, drums, etc) to play, to stop playing, to play softer, to play louder, blah blah so much so that it was more entertaining to watch them mask their frustration at her church-choir director antics than to listen to the performance. Man. Unfortunate.

      The only saving grace of the night was her true-to-the original performances of songs like Ready or Not (thanks to the DJ spinning the record), Killing Me Softly, and Doo Wop Thing. It’s just too bad that she didn’t put those performances first, because half of the left balcony seated around me had already gone home.

      Bottom line is that her tour fell flat. Songs were too loud, sung/rapped too fast, and were too unfamiliar. I actually started playing Brickbreaker on my Blackberry & updating Facebook during the show out of sheer boredom. She butchered my favorites like Ex Factor & Zion unforgiveably. Ms. Hill, no disrespect to your musical genious, in you own prophetic words, “You might win some but you just lost one.” Well, from the looks of the empty balcony only 40 minutes into your show, you lost a helluva lot more than one.

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        Girl, you missed a great show. She had a beautiful flow with the audience. Props to her band. She was there at 12:30am. The only adviced I can give to people…don`t booh someone you loved and respected, because they`re late or have change. Real artists aren`t toys. Throwing bottles on stage, come on…what did you expect, she`s been so disrecpected for being gone…it`s normal that she says things straight up. That`s not ego, that`s courage. She`s taking a chance by doing a tour. She doesn`t belong to us, let her be and perform like she wishes. Be there for her, like she`s been there before with her words.

        Just get there 11ish pm and wait. My bf was scared to pay, after all the comments he heard of what people have read. He knew about her back in 90`s, but was into other type of music. But I convinced him…and he was really happy and saw what a great artist she still is.

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        I agree with Marie….terrible DJ…he kept repeating the word “Montreal”, as if we didn’t know where we were. Probably a good thing in the end, because by the time LH did hit the stage, I didn’t have a clue where I was…I though maybe I was at the wrong concert. Her songs were so far from the original that I left 30 minutes into the show. Butchered songs, and a 3 hour wait. A complete disrespect for her audience. I can’t believe that concert organizers even allowed this to happen. It was -25 Celsius outside that night, and she made people wait in the bitter cold for hours. Unbelievable. Wish I had seen the reviews beforehand….such a waste of time and money. Would have given it all to a charity instead.

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      Just go around 11:30pm and enjoy, Montreal`s show was beautiful. There`s changes, but she keeps some songs the same. To see her Mcing was dope…for sure the more she`ll be on stage, the more power will come back to her. The crowd, just has to relax a little and be respectful. Don`t expect her to sing like a young 20yr old. She just sound more hardcore. I love it.

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    Dude, that sounds awful. I heard that she is somewhat of a b*tch, so I am not surprised by her attitude. I am surprised that she butchered her songs like that. I guess it’s sometimes better to just let people remain with the memories of what you once were.

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    This hurts man. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of my fav albums of all time. I think it helped me reach enlightenment.
    And her version of a change is gonna come (while def not better than otis’s) is so gooooood.
    A friend of mine had pretty much the same review after her Rock the Bells appearance this past summer.
    Do you think it was drugs? or her ego? or …..ugh. Maybe she needs help. Should we help her? I feel like i need to do something.

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      A friend who went to the Rock the bells last year, told me not to go, that she was horrible.
      He works at Metropolis, in Montreal. So after the show last night, he came to me and said: I take back everything I said against Lauryn.

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    Wow. I was kind of disappointed when I found out her Toronto show was sold out, but now I’m thinking that it’s probably for the best that I don’t have a ticket. Sounds like such a let down! It feels like she’s just so over it. I knew that was the case when she ran away before, but seriously if she’s still so over it then why is she even doing it?

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    i enjoyed both nyc shows to a certain degree (nothing you can do to “ready or not” is going to make it a bad song, including asking the crowd if they’re REAADAAAYYYY and then dedicating it to “all the ready people”), but they definitely came with a crazy price. thanks for telling everybody they were entitled to refunds, lauryn! made my night.

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    “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” is one of my favorite albums of all time too, and one of the few albums I actually bought the day it came out, pre-ordered and all.

    I didn’t know she was on tour again, I read a review in the voice i think that said she was indeed “worth the wait” when she played at The Blue Note and was also totally late — and maybe I’m a total brat but 3.5 hours? HELL TO THE NO. I could’ve written like two posts and eaten six burritos in that time period.

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    I read the commentary on this over at Racialicious and i’ve gotta say Lauryn Hill has gone off the deep end- her massive ego being her anchor weight. This saddens me and I’m not even a big Lauryn fan.

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    I’ve read this review approx 10 – 100 times during the publishing process and on every single occasion I’ve started blushing at the part that describes how the band were left to wait on stage in front of the pissed off crowd. I just feel so awkward / embarrassed for them.

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    Saw her a few months ago at Rock the Bells in DC. She didn’t show up during her scheduled time, evidently without notifying the promoters since they had her stage set on. After about an hour of an empty stage they started dragging her stuff off stage to many near riotous protesters. She finally showed up hours later and squeezed a small set into the gap between Tribe and Wu-Tang.

    As far as her ‘new style’, she is now doing all of her old songs ‘Go-Go’ style. If you aren’t familiar with Go-Go, take James Brown’s band… just the band, remove the soul, add more guitar, throw sped up hip-hop screamed in two notes over top of it. As far as Go-Go goes, I’ve heard worse but it wasn’t what anyone wanted to hear… even in DC, the town that created Go-Go.

    The ONLY redeeming factor of her set is that she happened to bring out NAS to do half of “If I Ruled the World”. I wouldn’t count on seeing that on her solo tour though.

    Basically, if I would have gone to see just her I would have been all sorts of pissed.

    Best part of it all… a couple days later it was reported that she didn’t show up on time because she was getting her nails done.

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    I just read her reviews on Ticketmaster and it ain’t pretty folks. She got 2.5 out of 5 stars. I live in Atlanta and the tix were sold out immediately. I was bummed out and thought I’d just go to Charlotte to see her since it was the closest city. Good thing I checked the reviews first! There is no way I’m spending my hard earned $$$ for someone to have the gall to tell me that if I don’t like it, I know where the door is. Yes, she actually said that to the crowd in Brooklyn. No thanks, Ms. Hill. It sucks too because she is one of the greatest voices/writers of our time.

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    i just re watched sister act II, and i got soo sad watching lauryn hill sing. like maybe she’s happy and ok with her career but i wish she could be amazing again.

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    Lauryn Hill has been on meltdown for at least the last 8 years. The whole thing has been a weird mixture of sad/reprehensible behavior. Seeing Hill in 2010 is pretty much asking for it.

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    This pisses me off so much. I get that artists sometimes like to leave the crowd waiting for a while to build the atmosphere and all that jazz…but this is ridiculous. Her first album was super, as was Sister Act II…but not super enough to put up with a three hour wait. Boo you Lauryn Hill.

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    This sounds like exactly the same scenario as I experienced about 2 years ago in the UK.

    I used to work as security at a gig venue in the UK and this was one of the WORST gigs I ever worked. I nearly didn’t work it, as she initially requested to have an ALL BLACK security team work the gig! I thought this was a joke, but I spoke to the tour promoter and she was serious!! It turned out in the end that all the black and asian security staff refused to work, so she ended up with an all-white team. Dickhead.

    So yeah, she comes on 2.5 hours late and it was the first time in my job I was actually scared. People were baying for our blood! Big 6 foot gangsters were shouting in my face and demanding a refund.

    She eventually turned up on the stage, clearly either drunk or high and screeched her way through about three songs, before the venue called it a day. I had to work 2 extra hours that night just to keep the venue open so the refund queue could be sorted out.

    Its really sad that her life-long fans have to be subjected to this. Her ego seems to have outgrown her talent sadly.

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    this literally made me yell out nooooooooo when i saw the headline. ack! so sad. so sad. (but glad i didn’t make any financial decisions around trying to get to her nyc show since she wasn’t playing in boston when i could go).

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    This is SO disappointing! I must have played “The Miseducation” 3x/day for 1998, 1999, and 2000 (my neighbors hated me) and still love that album! So the key to getting a good Lauryn Hill concert experience is just to…keep playing that album over and over and pretend it’s happening in like the Staples Center or something.

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      I did this with Ani DiFranco’s album “Living in Clip.”

      Not because Ani doesn’t have awesome shows, just I was a poor teenager. Live albums were sanctuaries for me.

      Now, I’m a poor adult, and I still can’t…hmm, waitaminit.

      *plays CDs* *happy place*

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    I had a very similar experience in Lisbon, Portugal this summer. She was more than 2 hours late and when she finally arrived just mumbled some of her hits which I could barely understand, in a very r’n'b way, after a couple of songs i left disappointed.
    My take on this is how i’d see an ex gf that just went the wrong path: you don’t lose this Lauryn Hill, you love what she was. You can’t bring the past back, at least you’ve got the record.

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    Seriously, what is it with these artists???? Any person in this world who is LUCKY enough to do their passion for a living should treat any concert like we ‘Corporate America 9 to 5 miserable”s treat our jobs…no matter how big of a star you are, you are NEVER ABOVE anything else….someone call Human Resources!

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    Well aren’t we just the entitled bunch? Sheesh.

    I went to see Lauryn in Asheville, NC on my birthday and there are definitely some things that ring true: she was almost 2 hours late (and the venue was standing room only, so imagine how anyone wearing high heels felt!), the band was too big, as if she were trying to compensate for something, the sound quality was off (turn the mics up and everything else waaaaaaay down please!), and she totally was directing each of her musicians like a conductor, which was quite entertaining at times because it actually made them play better.

    Having said all of that, I thought the show here turned out great, and I didn’t mind the wait one bit, even before i saw what the show was like. Nobody complained or screamed or threw things or demanded their money back. You know what we did while we waited? We talked to each other. Met new people. Smoked joints. Had drinks. Chilled the fuck out. *shrug*

    I also thought that her reinterpretation of a lot of the songs were understandable. I mean damn, look at how long she’s been singing the same ass songs! I figured she spiced it up so she didn’t get bored singing the same shit. *shrug*

    All in all, I think sometimes folks feel like celebrities owe them something, when in fact, they do not. They get paid, while some folks get all upset and attached. I grew up on her music as well, and I take into consideration what that industry does to people. Look at what happened to Michael. Hello. I’m not disappointed in her, I’m not her damn Mama, I’m praying for her. Still. (Clearly she could use some pure love in the form of sincere prayer coming her way.)

    And just because no one else said so, I feel like it’s necessary to say that it’s NOT okay to call her a bitch for any reason. Not just because she’s Lauryn Hill, but because she’s a woman like you and me and that’s self-defeating behavior.

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      i don’t think it’s asking too much for someone to be on time to a show that people are shelling out big bucks for, and for which many people will have to get a full night’s sleep after for work the next day. celebrity performers owe as much to the audience as non-famous performers. if people are paying you hard-earned money, especially 60 bux a ticket, you should respect them by showing up for the show on time. to me that is pure negligence and disrespect, not based on how famous she is, but based on a simple relationship between performer and audience. same as any other relationship. you’d be pissed if you attended a college class and the professor consistently showed up three hours late wouldn’t you?

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    My husband and I went 2 her show last night @ House of Blues in Orlando. What a waste of time and $$$$. The review posted earlier is DEAD ON. DO NOT WASTE YOUR $$$ on this show. The show was supposed to begin at 9pm and Ms. Hill decided to grace us with her presence by midnight. Awful! Such a disappointment after so many years of being a fan. Never again.

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    Ditto on that. We saw her last night in Orlando and it stunk to high heaven. We left early because it was not going to get any better. She looked, sounded and acted horribly.

    I’m a big fan but not a big fool. Never again. And $50?? At least the drinks were ok but I needed to be sedated to have patience with her.

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    Just saw Lauryn Hill last night in Edmonton. Doors opened at 8, she showed up at 12:35 – over 4.5 hours later. She didn’t apologize or give an excuse. Rather she acted like we were so privileged to even be in her presence. She yelled at her people on stage the whole time we saw her (only stayed for an hour after she decided to show up). She was always complaining of the sound that she had over 4 hours to come out and have checked. Her original music sounded butchered, like lets see how fast we can sing a song and think it resembles rap. Worst.Concert.Ever.

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    How is she still on tour?? All these reviews were from jan 11′? I saw her Dec 17th 11′. Hands down WORST CONCERT EVER!!!!!!! We had more fun listening to the DJ. So disappointed, as everyone else, she was so influential to me, and I’m sooooo diappointed.

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    I actually just bought tickets to her concert because my boyfriend ADORES her. I really hope it’s not as bad as everyone says. I spent almost $200 on our tickets, she needs to get it together.

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