Nas & Lauryn Hill at the Fillmore, 11/16/12

Categories: Last Night

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Britt Chester
Lauryn Hill last night at the Fillmore Auditorium. Slide show: Nas and Lauryn Hill

The energy is turned up when Ms. Hill's band takes the stage and jumps into an uptempo, prog-rock-esque riff. The set doesn't just start, it blasts off. Immediately evident is the musicianship of the six-piece band and three backup singers who are there to support. Ms. Hill takes the stage to massive cheering from the crowd and hype chanting from the DJ, who extends her introduction into something reminiscent of Latin American TV anchors shouting "goooaaaal" during a close soccer/futbol match. The riff transforms into an uptempo reggae joint over which she is suddenly tearing through a new arrangement of "Killing Me Softly," transforming it into a raucous introduction and a harbinger for the rest of her set.

While she disappeared from music for several years, what's clear isn't that Lauryn Hill has been gone, but that no one has been able to take her place. Her presence is dynamic -- simultaneously gruff and feminine -- and her abilities are absolutely undiminished. From demonstrations of her powerful range singing to patois-laced toasting to straight up ripping verses, the elevation isn't an issue for her breath control. She is a force on stage, and not just vocally. While commanding the spotlight, she is simultaneously leading the band, using hand signals to extend bridges, accelerate the tempo or push her back up singers into harmonic exploration.

The band offers her the opportunity to jump across styles effortlessly. "Superstar" emerges from an afro-beat-inspired introduction before giving way to a hard rocking version that, in turn, segues to an uptempo version of Bob Marley's "Concrete Jungle." Much of the material is pushed to new limits with new arrangements, and the energy is relentless. When the wave finally crashes, Ms. Hill is introducing her new song, "Black Rage," an astute socio-political piece that flips the old standard "My Favorite Things" from the The Sound of Music. "I wrote a song called Black Rage," she tells the crowd. "I want you to hear the lyrics."

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Britt Chester
Lauryn Hill last night at the Fillmore Auditorium. Slide show: Nas and Lauryn Hill

It starts out like a poem, and then the band drops in behind her as she alternates singing and explaining the lyrics, which touches on economics, culture and injustice, from the transportation of slaves to the inequities of the modern era. It's deep. It may be too deep for some, and the crowd begins to thin. Maybe it's that some folks only came out for Nas. Maybe folks started partying a little too early and couldn't hang through midnight. Maybe some people didn't expected to hear anything but the hits. Or maybe the new arrangements were innovative enough to throw off casual fans and the unadventurous. But whatever the reason, it boggles the mind that they wouldn't give her more respect only halfway through her set.

Despite the exodus, Hill and the band are unperturbed. In fact, she seems to take it upon herself to right the ship. "How many Fugees fans do we have in the house," she asks, about to push herself and the band harder, extending songs for solos and attempting to whip the crowd back into its frenzied state. Dropping "How Many Mics" and the timeless "Fugee La" are both phenomenal, although they are so huge that every song begins to feel like it's a finale. The rendition of 'Ready or Not" is an amped up rock-funk fusion that arrives via musical trails blazed by Sly Stone and/or Stax Records.

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Britt Chester
Lauryn Hill last night at the Fillmore Auditorium. Slide show: Nas and Lauryn Hill

Following a slower version of "Killing Me Softly," coming full circle from the start of the show, Hill returns to stage with only an acoustic guitar, sending off the band. She delivers and intimate rendition of "Turn the Lights Down Low" that draws everyone in. With the remaining audience fully engaged once again, she hustles the band back out for two last songs, and closes the night with the 1998-defining jam "Doo Wop (That Thing)." Those with the patience/intelligence/endurance to stay were graced with an incredible performance.

Keep reading for Critic's Notebook and Setlists

Location Info

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Fillmore Auditorium

1510 Clarkson St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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