Although rumors about a Fugees reunion tour had been bubbling for days before it was actually announced on Tuesday, the news still made a splash: a multi-date international tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the group’s galvanizing 1996 album “The Score” would be starting in a matter of weeks (see dates here), and would be officially introduced the next night at a pop-up show in New York at a location to be announced.
And indeed, the group — Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel — and a big backing band did perform at the Roof at Pier 17 in a New York at a show staged in partnership with Global Citizen Live, although the 3,500+ attendees had to wait for some three-and-a-half-hours past the show’s scheduled start time to hear just a few songs.
That’s not to downplay the impact of the performance: “The Score” was a defining cultural moment, a bold album that shifted hip-hop’s perspective from the street into something mainstream yet edgy, sophisticated and global, with a particular reach-out to its members’ Caribbean heritage. The album went on to sell an estimated seven million copies globally — at the peak of the lucrative CD era — but the group soon splintered acrimoniously, leaving its members to launch solo careers, particularly Hill with her even more successful 1998 debut “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
On Pier 17’s Roof, there were no solo albums or personal squabbles to consider: Just the trio and their large ensemble (13 horns, to say nothing of three background singers and a propulsive core band) prepping for the tour, “Diaspora Calling,” which starts in Chicago on November 2, and ending in Ghana on December 18.
“We’re still cooking it,” Hill — who is notorious for starting her concerts late — explained to the crowd of the brief, seven-song preview performance, before acknowledging both the group’s impact and its rocky past.
“We made hip hop global,” she said, noting the band’s “complicated history” and long breaks that she had taken from making music (apart from an “Unplugged” album and a handful of singles and features, “Miseducation” is the extent of her discography). Talking about the group that had dominated her young life since Pras introduced her to his “knuckle-headed cousin,” Wyclef, when she was 12, Hill said she wanted to reclaim the youth she had missed as a Fugee.
For his part, Wyclef’s comments focused on the inhumanity of the Haitian migrant crisis in Texas as he challenged President Biden to fix the problem, and asked that news outlets not misconstrue his words. Pras didn’t say much, moving behind Wyclef and Lauren when they spoke, only adding his resonant flow to Fugees’ triple-rap-attack when his turn came up.
But of course, music is what the crowd was waiting for, and the group delivered, for their first time onstage together in nearly 16 years.
After a slinky horn-driven instrumental intro, a black suited-Wyclef and a red-ruffle dress-wearing Hill (“I’m getting hit in the face with these ruffles in the wind,” she joked) leapt into a slow-vibing “The Score,” with each voice crisp and confident. The vibe quickly turned to aggressive as they ripped into the raucous “How Many Mics” and a ferocious “Zealots,” the latter complete with that track’s sonorous “I Only Have Eyes for You” interpolation, with Hill’s husky voice accompanied by and rough toasting from Wyclef.
Though Hill was chatty and swaying with the breezes, it was Wyclef who was the most animated, doffing his fedora to pour water over his head, and jamming on his guitar with several brief Santana-esque guitar solos and blues licks.
The audience roared when the group hit the anthemic “Fu-Gee-La,” and swooned when Hill moved quickly into a hymn-like version of the group’s breakthrough smash, their cover of Lori Lieberman’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Her voice truly hit its stride, with rich low notes and warm, colorful nuances – a haunted yet joyous tone that she brought, happily, into a forceful take on the riveting “Ready or Not,” the best moment of the evening.
The trio closed with a pensive take on Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” with Wyclef taking the lead and Hill backing him, in harmony. The lilting reggae classic-turned-Fugees’ foundation closed the night, just as the winds calmed.
The three locked arms, with Hill between Pras and Wyclef, and the promise of reunion appeared as solid as it had sounded.
. The Score
. How Many Mics
. Killing Me Softly
. Ready or Not
. No Woman, No Cry