Music review: Lauryn Hill, Glasgow Hydro

Lauryn Hill PIC: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Lauryn Hill PIC: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
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For anyone who has read only the press reports of Lauryn Hill’s recent European tour, her most high-profile jaunt of recent times, the temptation might have been to write off this show before it had even begun. Tales came from France of Hill appearing onstage two hours after her scheduled time and then only playing for a little over half an hour; such had her infamy built in this regard that, when she’d exceeded her billed onstage time of 9.20pm at the Hydro by even ten minutes, people were gleefully jumping on to Twitter to feed the outrage machine.

Lauryn Hill, Glasgow Hydro ***

Presumably never having experienced a show involving the Libertines’ Pete Doherty or Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose before, they would hopefully still have realised that Hill’s eventual arrival at 10pm wasn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things, especially not when the artist in question has built a stratospheric reputation on the back of a relatively slim output. The New Jersey-born singer’s success came first as a low-level film actor in the early 1990s, and then as the lead singer of the Fugees, whose 1996 album was a Grammy-winning international success.

This tour, however, celebrates her major achievement under her own name – the release in 1998 of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, her only solo album yet one which instantly lodged itself as a contender for the finest of the decade. Fusing classic soul, contemporary rap and light-touch political consciousness, its reputation has travelled well enough to allow Hill to pack a 12,000-capacity arena like the Hydro on its strength alone.

For those making the comment afterwards that just to see and hear her was enough, this show was certainly not a disappointment. She and her full live band played for 75 minutes in total, the house lights being put up prematurely three minutes before she finally walked offstage at quarter past 11; and while the overrun sapped a little of the drama from the finale, she was in the midst of performing the Fugees’ big hit Ready or Not at the time, with big hits including The Miseducation’s Everything is Everything, Ex-Factor and Doo-Wop (That Thing) already behind her.

While the production appeared slightly budget for a hall this size – small stage, screens just big enough to show Hill only slightly larger than she appeared onstage – her voice and personality remained in command of the room. Wearing a long coat and a cloche hat the size of a bowler, she performed before a screen showing retro footage of childhood, black vocal icons and edgily disconcerting footage of police violence against black people during Forgive Them Father.

“I wanted to present something for our generation that spoke about love, vulnerability and the ability to perpetuate love in our communities,” she said, by way of explaining her recorded masterpiece. “People tell me they grew up with this record, there’s no greater compliment.” Her voice fluctuated between a smooth croon and a fierce rap, and it really was something to be in her presence, despite the relative brevity of the set. - David Pollock