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Lauryn Hill resurrects the promise of her glory days in concert at Uptown Theater

Singer Lauryn Hill
Singer Lauryn Hill AP

The coronation of Lauryn Hill was performed in the winter of 1999, when her debut solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” was nominated for 10 Grammy awards. At the Grammy awards show that February, it would win five of them.

Several days later, Hill performed at the Midland theater, her last show here until Monday night, when she performed at the Uptown Theater.

Since her previous performance here, Hill, a former member of the hip-hop trio the Fugees, weathered a legal battle over “Miseducation,” withdrew from the music scene for a few years and then toured sporadically. In 2012, she pleaded guilty to tax evasion, leading to a three-month prison sentence that ended in October.

Monday night, she returned to Kansas City triumphantly, though not exactly punctually. It was almost 9:45 p.m. when she and her band finally took the stage. By then, the sold-out crowd of about 1,600 was getting tired of the DJ on stage and irritable from the delay and the temperature in the theater, which was quickly rising. Hill would change their mood quickly and dramatically.

She opened with a shortened version of “Killing Me Softly,” a hit for the Fugees, though it would take a measure or two to recognize it. And that was the theme for much of the show: Hill and her band delivering songs she is known for but rearranging them, sometimes extensively.

It seemed to catch a lot of people off guard initially, inhibiting sing-alongs. But once the crowd adjusted to the new arrangements, it warmed up to them and reacted enthusiastically. She would reprise “Killing Me” later in the show, rendering a version that was closer to the hit.

Hill was backed by three vocalists who gave many of the songs an evangelical-gospel flavor and a rock band that issued lots of percussion and guitar thunder. The sound could have been better. Up front it was OK, but in the back it was muddy and bright and her vocals got lost in the mix.

The set list included Fugees tracks (with Hill taking all the vocal parts), like “Ready or Not,” “How Many Mics,” “Zealots” and “Fu-Gee-La.” But most of the 19 songs came from “Miseducation” and her “MTV Unplugged” album. The first of those, “Everything is Everything” was transformed from a satiny, funky soul tune into a frenetic funk-rap anthem with a heavy rock foundation. “Ex-Factor,” too, was renovated drastically into a long, epic rap/funk/rock number.

Hill is a charismatic performer, vocally and visually. She appeared to be calling audibles at times, conducting her musicians like a bandleader. Her voice sounded a bit deeper than it used to but it’s nonetheless still soulful and commanding. Her rapping was rapid-fire and electric.

She pulled a stool on stage, strapped on an electric guitar and performed stripped-down versions of a few songs, like “Adam Lives in Theory,” “Oh, Jerusalem” and “Just Like Water.”

She brought the two-hour show to a close with lots of gusto and fervor. The audience was inspired to sing and dance to “Fu-Gee-La,” “Ready or Not” and the cover of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’.”

She saved the biggest for last: “Doo Wop (That Thing),” the biggest hit off her blockbuster, Grammy-lauded album. For its duration it was easy to imagine that all her troubles are behind Lauryn Hill and her future could be as bright as it appeared 15 years ago.

SET LIST

Killing Me Softly With His Song; Everything is Everything; Final Hour; To Zion; Lost Ones; Ex-Factor; Mr. Intentional; Adam Lives in Theory; Oh, Jerusalem; Just Like Water; Turn Your Lights Down Low; I Only Have Eyes for You/Zealots; How Many Mics; Fu-Gee-La; Ready or Not; Killing Me Softly With His Song; Jammin’; Could You Be Loved; Doo Wop (That Thing).

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