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last night's gig

Wait, Maybe Lauryn Hill's Comeback Isn't Going So Well

Not to completely contradict ourselves or anything, but mere days after hopping onto the “Lauryn Hill is back!” bandwagon — following her successful-seeming L.A. Rock the Bells performance — Vulture now must politely and quietly exit. Why? Because of her, um, interesting set at the New York stop of Rock the Bells, which went down this Saturday at Governors Island.

The show reviews from the West Coast gigs had already reported that she was speeding up the tempos on all her old cuts. This is, it turns out, not a good thing! While the manic energy Hill and her band was pouring out was appreciated, it meant most of the set list was more or less incomprehensible. (As in: we wish we could complain about Hill skipping her biggest solo hit in “Doo Wop (That Thing),” but we're not actually sure that she did not, in fact, play “Doo Wop (That Thing)”). No complaints about her rapping, but where was the singing? Either unable or unwilling to reprise her past vocal showcases, the choppy live renditions mostly had Lauryn chanting her way through choruses and letting the back-up singers do the rest.

The admirably game crowd mostly went with it, and was eventually treated to an amusing, set-ending cavalcade-of-stars from the backstage area, all presumably as curious as any other rap fan to see Lauryn Hill in the flesh. Dragged out, in quick succession, to do nothing more than wave: John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and, of course, Chris Rock. (Also spotted backstage: Ed Westwick, Jessica Szhor, Bokeeem Woodbine, and Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. God bless you, Rock the Bells.)

Things apparently were much worse for Lauryn at RTB's D.C. stop Sunday night, where Hill hit the stage three hours late with her voice “noticeably horse [sic] ” and generally sounding “terrible.” That Nas actually showed up unannounced to do “If I Ruled the World” and the reviews are still negative just about says it all. ( For the record, not everyone is hating on Hill's punched-up sets: famous contrarian Christopher Weingarten is lauding Hill's “majestic retro-future space-metal.”)

All that said, New York's RTB — which wrapped up with the undeniable 1-2-3 punch of A Tribe Called Quest doing all of Midnight Marauders, Wu-Tang doing Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Snoop doing Doggystyle, and all three for the most part actually sticking to the concept — was still a triumph.

Also: anyone catch Lauryn Hill's set and care to disagree/agree passionately?

Photo: Brook Bobbins