Concert review: Lauryn Hill, Tribe & Wu Tang @ Rock the Bells

Baltimore Sun reporter

From the Midnight Sun blog:

Rock The Bells had the potential to be epic.

The tour, which came to Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, boasted some of hip-hop's most legendary acts: Lauryn Hill, Wu Tang Clan, Rakim, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg and A Tribe Called Quest.

Instead, the sweltering heat combined with over-the top waits between acts had a fair share of ticket holders ready to rock some of the artists' bells.

Hill, undoubtedly the night's biggest draw, was a lesson in dysfunction. It's been nearly more than a decade since Hill's uber-successful album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and Hill's recording hiatus fueled an undeniable buzz at last night's show.

So when it was announced -- just before she was about take the stage -- that Hill was in danger of not performing due to illness, it appeared the crowd was about to flip its collective lid. Audience members hurled boos, hisses and curses ...

Organizers took the stage trying to reassure the crowd that the concert was still plenty good even without Hill. The audience wasn't buying it. And for good reason: Hill's music crossed ethnic, gender, and economic lines. Hill was the "it" girl --a gifted actress, singer, poet, and rapper.

Hill was the reason why a good majority of the crowd came to Rock The Bells. She's also the reason why many of them left with bad tastes in their mouths. Hill's performance was absolutely dreadful. Hill was on the stage for just about 20 minutes, and barely attempted to perform any of the material from her legendary solo album.

To her credit, Hill came out ripping, which she does extremely well. (Hill is considered one of the greatest female emcees of all time. And for good reason. He delivery, speed, and lyrics have always struck a chord with fans.) Her singing -- on the other hand-- wasn't striking anything. Her voice was noticeably horse. Her band drowned her out in a number of spots during her brief stage time. Her background singers didn't do anything noteworthy. The arrangement of her music made many of her songs unrecognizable, and there were feedback issues to boot.

A surprise guest appearance by rapper Nas for the hit "If I Ruled The World" couldn't save Hill's short set. Overall, it was a huge let down for her fans -- many of whom paid more than $100 a ticket in this economy to see her.

The best performance of the night came from A Tribe Called Quest. With surprise guest Busta Rhymes, the group simply ripped it up. "Bonita Applebam," "Can We Kick It?" "Award Tour" "Find A Way," were among the energy-filled set list of familiar hits.

Wu Tang Clan also put on a solid show. It was good to see all the remaining living members of the group. (Ol' Dirty Bastard's son, Boy Jones, stepped in and rapped his deceased father's lines in each song, which was a classy touch.)

KRS-One lost me and a number of folks in the crowd when he launched into these ridiculous speeches where he attacked the Civil Rights movement of the '90s, new technology, and higher education. It made him sound foolish. (Stick to the rapping, KRS-One. Leave the intellectual discussion for those "educated" folks better equipped to do it.)

And finally, there was Snoop Dogg's laissez-faire performance, which seemed a bit tired. And don't get me started on the rapper's choice of attire: A prison-looking uniform made of bandanna material. (Seriously? Who is dressing these people?) To add insult to injury, the west coast rapper made the crowd wait an additional hour after Wu Tang performed. It was the cherry on top a spoiled cake.

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