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Review: Lauryn Hill at Rams Head Live Feb. 10

Lauryn Hill, the iconoclastic rapper who's considered among the most talented of her generation, performed Thursday night at Rams Head Live, a hastily organized concert that was announced just two weeks ago. Reporter John-John Williams IV was there.

A photo gallery of the show is here

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You never know what you are going to get with Lauryn Hill. Will the uber-talented Grammy darling show up? Or will it be her alter-ego: an excuse-making diva who was more than two hours late last August to her set at The Rock The Bells Tour at Merriweather Post Pavilion?

The audience got a little of both last night during. Hill took the stage at midnight -an hour after her show was scheduled to begin. She had no opening act -just a DJ who spun a mix of reggae and old school hip hop.

The slew of hits that the DJ spit out was enjoyable the first 10 minutes. But after a good half hour of songs - around midnight on a weeknight - the crowd lost some of its energy and appeared to be growing restless.

Hill, who claimed to be sick (the DJ announced that she was feeling under the weather prior to her performance), coughed for a bit when she first appeared on stage. But she quickly recovered when she launched into the Bob Marley cover "Loving Jah." 

The song - which is meant to honor the father of her childrens' father - includes a series of church-like call and response hooks that would be taxing on the most healthy of voices. But Hill was actually able to shine.

She gently peppered the song with a series of runs that she handled with ease, giving the impression that Hill was going to give Baltimore a spotless performance.

Those thoughts were quickly dashed with "Lost Ones," which was almost unrecognizable because of the God-awful arrangement. "When It Hurts So Bad" was also problematic. Again she showed off her vocal chops as she belted out pitch-perfect riffs. Too bad her soulful sounds were pretty much incoherent. I couldn't tell what song she was performing at parts.

Hill truly hit her stride with "Everything is Everything." She told the audience that it was her first time performing the song with her band. But you would never know. Her energy and presence on stage entranced the audience, and was the mark of a world-class performer.

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After singing "Ex-Factor" groups of fans were screaming: "We love you." Hill playfully responded: "Did you practice that at home?" By 1 a.m. Hill announced that she didn't have a lot more time on stage. (It was almost laughable given the fact that she started an hour late.) She surprised everyone by churning out another half hour worth of her biggest hits. "I Only Have Eyes for You" (The Flamingos cover, which was featured on The Fugees "Score" album) was simply fantastic. She nailed the hauntingly romantic song.

By this time she had abandoned her stiff, "Holy Spirit" church-goer movements for a more fluid feel. Hill had the audience eating from her palms during "Zealots." She nailed "Fugeela" and "Ready or Not." "Killing Me Softly" was also a treat, which set up her finale "Doo Wop (That Thing)."

By this point, Hill was leading her fans to jump in the air a la Kris Kross. She genuinely appeared to be at ease and having fun. After the song ended, I was struck by the fact that she made a point of taking on her critics. "People say we don't appreciate our fans. That's bull s&#t!" she said.

I appreciated the candor. It showed a sense of pride. (Heck, she showed she cared with her improved wardrobe at this concert. It was a step up from that dreadful getup she wore in August when it looked like she was channeling a grandmother in witness protection.)

Hopefully, it's a sign that Hill is ready to start recording music again so that she can capture some of that magic she left behind in the 90s.

John-John Williams IV is a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He last reviewed Lauryn Hill when she performed at Rock the Bells last year. Erik Maza edited this post.

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Photo: Lauryn Hill at Rams Head Live 2010. (Colby Ware/Special to Baltimore Sun)

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