reCAP:: Ms. Lauryn Hill :: 2014.01.31
Devoted fans and listeners gathered at The Capitol Theatre on a cold, January night for a total hip-hop experience. On Friday January 31st, Port Chester finally welcomed the unique and electric Ms. Lauryn Hill.
After her DJ opened the show for half an hour, Ms. Hill’s band began to take the stage one musician at a time. The drummers, the keyboardist, the guitarist, and the bassist took direction toward their instruments; then the three background singers strode swiftly onstage. The crowd fueled the theatre with excitement by clapping and chanting “Lauryn! Lauryn!,” anxiously waiting for the intellectual bombshell.
Her DJ announced “Ms. Lauryn Hill!” to the packed theatre as she walked with confidence onstage in front of her band. Ms. Hill came out wearing a striped skirt, short black and white boots, and a black sweater that read “Fujiyama.” The legend arrived in Port Chester, and was ready to slay the crowd with intellect, electric movement, and mesmerizing passion.
The night began with a short rendition of The Fugees’ 1996 classic cover of “Killing Me Softly” with a heavy, reggae flavor. As Ms. Lauryn Hill sang into the microphone during this performance, she backed up to do a rhythmic step to the thumping reggae beat. She swerved her hands across her head, and swiftly moved her feet to the percussion section.
Ms. Hill then continued with a hit from her 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything.” She performed the song with an upbeat groove and with a heavy emphasis on rhythm guitar. The lyrics “After winter must come spring/Everything is everything,” echoed throughout the entire theatre by the audience, demonstrating the importance Ms. Hill’s lyrics have on her fans.
There’s no doubt that Ms. Lauryn Hill brought a strong presence to The Capitol Theatre. With every song she belted, from The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and “Fu-Gee-La” to Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” she had complete control onstage. If she couldn’t hear her voice through the sound system, she would tell her band to bring it low so the audience could listen. The greatest part of these three specific performances was seeing her children dance backstage, and enjoy watching their mother perform her art.
The majority of Ms. Hill’s set-list was heavily influenced by reggae music. Throughout almost every song she started with a rendition of the original recording, improvised a reggae groove and “call and response” vocal section, and then returned to the original version. During the “Killing Me Softly” dub in the beginning of the show, Ms. Hill swooned, “Telling my whole life” and her three background singers repeated her with just as much heart and emotion. This not only demonstrated the creative repertoire she has with her band, but the power Ms. Hill has to create with mind, body, and spirit.
What made this show particularly remarkable was that the set-list was brilliantly improvised. During “Final Hour,” Ms. Lauryn Hill broke out into a several minute improvisation when she sang, “Workin’ hard, workin’ hard” continuously. Improvisation doesn’t always do well for certain performers, but Ms. Hill did a mesmerizing job playing onstage with her lyrics and dance movements.
Toward the middle of the set, Ms. Hill and her band covered The Flamingos’ 1959 song “I Only Have Eyes For You.” It was a beautiful rendition, containing sharp cuts on the two and four beat and strong echoes in Ms. Hill’s vocals. “I Only Have Eyes For You” undoubtedly moved the audience to incredible heights of love, as couples held each other and swayed to the 1950s R&B/doo-wop melody and rhythm. It was a feeling beyond comprehension and expression – this performance, and Ms. Hill’s entire set, was pure magic.
One of the magical parts of the evening was when Ms. Lauryn Hill performed the legendary “Ex-Factor” from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was a heartfelt performance, sung at a slower pace so Ms. Hill could hold onto every word. She repeated the final line of the song, “Why won’t you live for me?” with such an ache that you felt her desire within yourself. With this lyric, she conveyed a struggle she’s experienced and had a strong heartache over. After she echoed The Capitol Theatre with her voice of passion and wisdom, she received roars of love from her audience. She wiped her tears with a black towel and said, “Port Chester, thank you for the company. I appreciate it.”
Another highlight was at the end of the night when Ms. Hill broke out with “Doo Wop (That Thing).” As soon as she sang the lyrics, “Girls, you know you better watch out,” the theatre exploded with energy and nostalgia. The band grooved on the legendary riff and rhythm, as fans were bumping their hands in the air and singing along to Ms. Hill’s empowering anthem: “How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?”
The night concluded with a sincere, “Good night, Port Chester!” from Ms. Hill. She blew a kiss and saluted to her fans, demonstrating her admiration and appreciation for their undying support. She then brought out her children onstage and encouraged them to show off their talents in front of the audience; she bid her final farewell when she exited the stage with her family.
Ms. Lauryn Hill brought a moving show to The Capitol Theatre on Friday night that illustrated nothing but art and passion. She had playful moments with her band onstage, but she’s essentially the director and ultimate creator of her performance. It’s mind-blowing to be in the presence of such a powerful artist. Ms. Lauryn Hill coming to Port Chester was certainly one of the best things to ever happen in this town – we hope she returns to The Capitol Theatre soon to energize and inspire the people with her brilliant music and intellect.