Lauryn Hill has spent most of the past decade playing hide-and-seek with a fan base that’s been winnowed down from the 8 million-plus who bought her 1998 solo debut, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” to a cadre of diehards, offering up sporadic performances that’ve ranged from bafflingly esoteric to gripping and visceral, both of which could be used to describe last night’s unusually intimate gig at Gotham’s Blue Note.
As usual, fans had plenty of time to ponder which – if any – Lauryn Hill would turn up for the performance. The show, originally slated for a typical 8 p.m. start, was pushed back three hours earlier that day – which allowed the singer to appear positively prompt (by her standards) by hitting the stage a mere 90 minutes late.
But when she did finally arrive, Hill did so with a flourish, quickly dispelling any notion that the jazz club setting would translate into a subdued set. The booming, set-opening version of Bob Marley’s “Forever Loving Jah” was about as mellow as she’d get during her hour and a half perf, which saw most songs extended by aggressive soloing by her bandmates (particularly a pair of keyboardists) and spacy free verse on Hill’s own part.
Purists may have cringed at the metallic tinge afforded “Lost Ones,” which took on a Rage Against the Machine vibe thanks to the singer’s snarling delivery. But as she bobbed and weaved through the thickets of sound, it became clear that Hill had a firm grasp on bringing both the noise and the funk – which melded magnificently on a wildly psychedelicized take on “Ex-Factor” (a song that would make two appearances this evening).
Not everything worked to perfection. Having frontloaded the set with hard-charging pieces, Hill was a bit too raspy to hit the high notes – or a goodly number of the lower ones – in her once-iconic cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” But the resolute manner in which she soldiered through the set’s rougher patches was encouraging – and made her eccentricity seem less crazy, and more crazy like a fox.