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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 4:02 am | Fair 39º


Paul Mann: Lauryn Hill Busts the Curfew at Santa Barbara Bowl

Fans brave the cold for a short set after a long but worthwhile wait

On an unseasonably cold night last Saturday, music fans bundled up and braved the threat of rain to attend a rare concert by the sometimes reclusive Lauryn Hill at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

The show opened while most people were huddled around the bar and coffee stands with the last-minute addition of Los Angeles rapper Murs.

Although his name is not well known in the mainstream pop music world, Murs is a well-respected veteran rapper in the underground hip-hop world. Murs released his first single with his initial band 3 Melancholy Gypsys in 1993, and since then has been in several successful experimental groups, including the Florida-based punk fusion band Whole Wheat Bread.

The prolific performer appeared in Santa Barbara with DJ 9th Wonder and played a full set of hip-hop sounds to the sparse early crowd.

Many in the crowd had found their seats by the 8 p.m. scheduled start time for Hill, but anyone familiar with the veteran performer probably knew that they were in for a long wait. As a member of the innovative hip hop fusion band the Fugees, she burst onto the music scene in the early 1990s, but by 1998 she had her first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which garnered her five Grammys.

Hill also became a film star and, disillusioned with her pop star roll, played infrequently during the past decade. When she does perform live music, she has a feisty reputation — much like her predecessor the legendary Sly Stone, of doing things at her own pace in her own time. Consequently, it isn’t unusual for her shows to start hours late. In a big-city late-night venue, this can often be to her advantage and for her fans as well.

Her DJ begins with a set of classic dance tunes and usually has the house jumping by the time her band of accomplished musicians and singers wander onstage. The band slowly picks up on the DJ’s beat and normally has an ecstatic house mesmerized by the time the mercurial maven makes her way onstage. Unfortunately, at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, many in the crowd less familiar with the performer’s persona sat perplexed as they waited until 9 p.m. for the diva to make her away to the stage. But with only an hour before the dreaded 10 p.m. curfew, the sweet-singing siren quickly won over many in the crowd with her brilliant singing voice and unique mix of soulful music.

Hill began her set with a few well-known songs from her solo career, including “Everything Is Everything.” Then she launched into some classic Fugees hits. Her band of masterful musicians reworked the hip hop Fugees style into a more soulful sound, allowing Hill to showcase her immense vocal range. Much of her sound seems to embrace the rhythmically seducing hip hop sound pioneered by bands in the ‘90s, like “Tricky.” The result is a hypnotic blend of rock,reggae, soul and hip hop music punctuated by her eloquent singing voice.

Hill managed to cram an impressive slice of her lengthy musical career into the hour she had to play, and even included some classic Bob Marley covers in a fitting tribute to the official Bob Marley week celebrations.

In typical Lauryn Hill style, the feisty singer refused to stop performing at the appointed 10 p.m. curfew time and managed to squeeze in two more songs before worried managers hustled her off the stage.

As they exited the Bowl, crowd reaction was mixed with many of the uninitiated grumbling about the long wait and short set. But to many more devout followers, the rare chance to be up close and personal with the masterful singer ensured a magical evening for them. Hill, as always, orchestrated the evening in her own unique way, in the end. Few other performers can make the same claim.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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