Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann
Lauryn Hill :: 05.14.11 :: Santa Barbara Bowl :: Santa Barbara, CA
On an unseasonably cold Saturday night, music fans bundled up and braved the threat of rain to attend a rare concert by the sometimes reclusive Lauryn Hill. The show opened while most people were huddled around the bar and coffee stands with the last minute addition of Los Angeles rapper Murs. Although his name is not well known in the mainstream pop music world, Murs is a well respected veteran rapper in the underground hip hop world. Murs released his first single with his initial band 3 Melancholy Gypsys way back in 1993, and since then has been in several successful experimental groups, including Florida-based punk-fusion band Whole Wheat Bread. The prolific performer appeared in Santa Barbara with DJ DJ 9th Wonder and played a full set of hip hop sounds to the sparse early crowd.
|Murs by L. Paul Mann|
Many in the crowd had found their seats by the 8 pm scheduled start time for Ms. Hill, but anyone familiar with the veteran performer probably knew that they were in for a long wait. As a member of the innovative hip hop fusion band The Fugees, she burst on to the music seen in the early 90s and by 1998 her first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had garnered her five Grammys. Hill also became a film star and became disillusioned with her pop star roll, which she’s played infrequently over the last decade.
When she does perform live music she has a feisty reputation akin to likeminded predecessor Sly Stone, i.e. doing things at her own pace in her own time. Consequently, it is not unusual for her shows to start hours late. In a big city late night venue, this can often be to her advantage, and her fans, as well. Her DJ begins with a set of classic dance tunes and usually has the house jumping by the time her band of accomplished musicians and singers wander onstage. The band slowly picks up on the DJ's beat and normally has an ecstatic house mesmerized by the time the mercurial maven makes her way onstage. Unfortunately, at the Santa Barbara bowl Saturday, many in the crowd less familiar with the performers persona sat perplexed as they waited until 9 pm for the diva to make her away to the stage.
|Lauren Hill by L. Paul Mann|
With only an hour before the dreaded 10 pm curfew, the sweet singing siren quickly won over many in the audience with her brilliant singing and unique mix of soulful music. Hill began her set with a few well-known songs from her solo career including, “Everything Is Everything.” Then she launched into some classic Fugees hits. Her band of masterful musicians reworked the Fugees’ style into a more soulful sound, allowing Hill to showcase her immense vocal range. Much of her new sound seems to embrace the rhythmically seducing trip hop sound pioneered by 90s, acts like Tricky and Portishead. The result is a hypnotic blend of rock, reggae, soul and hip hop punctuated by her eloquent singing.
Hill managed to cram an impressive slice of her lengthy musical career into the hour she had to play, and even included some classic Bob Marley covers in a fitting tribute to the official Bob Marley Week celebrations happening worldwide. In typical Lauryn Hill fashion, the feisty singer refused to stop performing at the appointed 10 pm curfew and managed to squeeze in two more songs before worried managers hustled her offstage. As they exited the Bowl, crowd reaction was mixed, with many of the uninitiated grumbling about the long wait and short set. But to more devout followers, the rare chance to be up close and personal with the masterful singer ensured a magical evening. Ms. Lauryn Hill, as always, orchestrated the evening in her own unique way, and, in the end, few other performers can make the same claim.
Continue reading for more pics of Lauryn Hill & Murs in Santa Barbara...