Sixty-six minutes after the final out was recorded in the Kansas City Royals’ loss to the New York Mets on Saturday night, Lauryn Hill stepped onto a makeshift stage positioned near second base at Kauffman Stadium. Her arrival may not have been particularly punctual, but her shockingly vital 57-minute set rendered the delay irrelevant.
The concert was one of Hill’s three post-game performances in Major League Baseball stadiums this year that are intended to publicize the efforts of Strike Out Slavery. The organization battles human trafficking.
About a quarter of the 28,697 people at the game stuck around for Hill’s performance even though she has a reputation as an unreliable performer. Hill’s history of showing up late or not at all for concerts was augmented at a festival in Scotland this month when her tardiness for a headlining performance limited her set to less than 30 minutes.
Aside from her gesticulations indicating she was displeased with the sound, Hill revealed no signs of volatility on Saturday. And she was right to be upset about the abysmal sound. The lighting was lousy too. It didn’t matter. Hill and her full band transcended the imperfect conditions in a thrilling outing.
Hill, 44, rose to fame as a member of the hip-hop trio the Fugees. She told the crowd that “when it was my turn to make a project that resonated with me,” she opted to “combine the classic soul tradition with the hip-hop beats that resonated with my generation.” The resulting 1998 recording “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Hill was also named Best New Artist by the Recording Academy.
She’s released only a disconcerting live album and a handful of singles in the subsequent 21 years. Yet Saturday’s entirely essential concert indicated that Hill is anything but an eccentric has-been. In giving her old songs fresh arrangements, Hill was wholly relevant. “Everything Is Everything” received a gospel-based overhaul. The sly “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was irrationally sexy, while “Forgive Them Father” was painfully lacerating. Footage of police brutality and civil unrest accompanied the latter song.
An invigorating reading of “Superstar” was accentuated by footage of musical icons like Nina Simone and Bob Marley. As she overcame the impediments inherent in Saturday’s unconventional setting, the electrifying Hill proved she belongs in the same distinguished pantheon as her heroes.
Set list: Lost Ones; Everything Is Everything; Superstar; Final Hour; Forgive Them Father; Ex-Factor; Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You; To Zion; The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill; Doo Wop (That Thing); Killing Me Softly With His Song.