Whenever commentators want to gauge the pulse of Arab opinion, they talk about the "Arab Street", in the same way that Volvo-driving "Soccer Moms" are thought to represent Middle America. British Conservative party politicians ask themselves how an idea will play in the "Home Counties", while Labour talk about "Northern Heartlands". Well, A&Rs in every record company should talk about the women's bog at the Hammersmith Apollo, euphemistically known as the "Ladies' at the Apollo". That is where the pulse can be felt about how badly or how well your artist is doing.
I went to see Lauryn Hill last night (Sunday) at the Hammersmith Apollo. I went with E Double, a good friend. When she went to the Ladies' at the Apollo, this is what she heard, "it's that Marley husband of hers, Rohan, he's made her lose her identity. Some men are domineering you know, women lose themselves in some relationships. That's what's driving her mad, and making her put on such a shambolic show."
"She's been overtaken some marijuana'd dreadlocked poltergeist. 'What have you done with the real Lauryn Hill? Out with her, you beast', out with her!", screamed one of the women, slapping her friend across the face - her poor friend had for that moment vicariously become Lauryn Hill.
Okay, I confess, I made up the last bit. Watching the show was the aural equivalent of having your toenails pulled out in a torture chamber in the Villa Grimaldi, not exactly sweetness and light. There were some high points, mainly Fugees stuff. But the highs paled in comparison to the depths to which she plumbed. The concert is already doing the rounds on the net. London Big Girl, Omolasky Olafrisky was there, and this is what she put in a facebook note today.
"Lauryn is doing a concert this Sunday". Those are the words that have been "strumming my brain" all week. I heard about it on the radio, saw stuff on the internet and my friends were going and talking about it. I LOVE LAURYN HILL. From way back when, I HAVE LOVED LAURYN HILL. I have all her albums and every song she's done in between. However I am super broke so i figured "It's cool - I'll sacrifice seeing her this time. There will be others. I'll listen to her discography all day as penance".
So imagine my shock when come Sunday evening at about 7pm a phone call comes through to Frances on our way to dinner . It's from Alero and Trey, basically saying - we cant go - have our LAURYN HILL tickets. I almost crashed in excitement. Such was my joy, I turned to Vickii and Lola behind me and said, "Ok you heifers, I'm sorry but we shall have to jabo your asses, cos WE ARE GOING TO THE LAURYN HILL CONCERT!!! muahahahahahhahahaha"
A quick placatory takeaway and rides home, we were on our way! Bless you Trey and Alero, sorry you couldn't go for whatever reason but WE ARE ON OUR WAY!!!!!!!!!! My heart was racing. I broke every speeding rule, nearly ran over several pedestrians and cursed my way through slow drivers, till we finally got there. Despite having eaten nothing all day (seriously, nothing at all, I was saving space for some pounded yam and efo at dinner), I sprinted past the food and drink stands as I was too impatient. Who cares about food or drinks when in the presence of Ms LAURYN HILL?
We got to our seats just as the band came on, to immense screams and cheers. I whooped along thinking - "YES!! WE MADE IT!!! PERFECT TIMING!!!!" The band started with this amazing instrumental beat and all I could think was"fantastic, Lauryn is coming. Lauryn is coming".
She finally came on with that husky laugh of hers. Crazy, but my heart nearly exploded. It was LAURYN, IN THE FLESH!!! She looked fabulous. Her hair was in a HUGE AFRO which looked almost orange in the light. She was wearing a long cream trench Mac, a brown turtle neck silky top, a bright pink scarf and several gold chains, with wide leg black trousers. I remembered how back in the day she hardly used to wear skirts and thought ok she's still keeping to her style. I thought she might be abit hot on stage with that coat especially with the lights but figured she would take it off.
She started off with a kick ass gospel song - or at least I think it was, cos all I could hear was "Jesus Christ, Holy Ghost" . Very high energy, loud, big band styled. GREAT - way to get the people pumped! I clapped and whooped along. And boy, the woman had energy - just jumping and prancing around the stage. Too too mad. (So much so i couldn't get a clear picture of her - the best being what I uploaded). The song ended and she asked "WHAT'S UP LONDON????" We all whooped, clapped, screamed in unison - MISS HILL WAS IN THE HOUSE AND FINALLY ON STAGE!!!!!!!!
Next thing, I'm hearing
"It's funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication"
LOST ONES!!!! She's started! But wait, that isn't the tune for it ... but ok, she's doing that remix thing artists sometimes do , not bad. At least she's trying to mix things up a little. She was a little loud and screechy but ok that's cos the band is quite loud as well. It will get better.
I was to say that to myself, several times through the night. She basically spent the whole time singing her classics off-tune (I'm sorry, remix or not, she was off-key), in a loud screechy voice, sometimes screaming to be heard. A few times, the band would be quiet and you'd hear the beauty of her voice but bare moments later they would be back. I can't even tell you the order of the songs cos I couldn't make out what songs she was singing. I know the lyrics to almost every song she's done (BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY I AM A FAN!) but she was screeching soo much, and had changed the tunes, the only times i knew what song she was singing was when i heard a few words and managed to twig which song it was.
30 mins later, Frances and I are looking at each other but neither of us wants to be the first to say it. Then the opening strings for Ex-factor came on. That is still my most favourite song of hers. I was soo excited and soo happy (any of you that heard me moan about how Robin Thicke didn't sing "I Need Love" would understand how much I hate it when Artists dont perform the songs I love the most). I started singing along at the top of my voice but she was OFF KEY!! At first I was confused as it seemed like she was rapping the verses and i thought maybe she was singing a different chorus cos all i heard was one long indecipherable screech. The song ended and my head was pounding. I turned to Frances and I couldn't hide how upset I was any more. We both had headaches and it was a relief to know I wasn't the only one hating it. People around us were complaining and she pointed out that some others were walking out. For me it was just a mash of noise; a cacophony of clanging sounds. I started to grow bored waiting for her to actually start singing. I figured she would have to chill with the noise for a bit and then sing some of the songs like she should. WRONG!
2 more "SONGS" and then the band took a break. When she asked how we were all doing, people started to boo. BOOING AT A LAURYN HILL CONCERT??? BLASPHEMY!!! I think someone must have spoken to her and told her that she actually had to sing, so she did some acappella rendition. Her voice, haunting as it was (a la MTV unplugged album) couldn't quite hit the high notes or hold them for very long. When she started making excuses for the state of her voice and how she wouldn't normally sing a slow song in this state, I just started thinking "if you knew your voice wasn't in a fit state, why on earth would you come and sing live??" (dollar dollar bills y'all). It was also at this point that my heart started to sink in the realisation she may not actually divert from the noise she'd been making earlier.
I wasn't ready to give up just yet so i decided to sit back and chill. I had however become soo bored and disappointed, I started texting people. Lawunmi who quite possibly loves Lauryn as much (ok maybe a bit more) than I do, replied with this text - "she's giving me the hangover all the alcohol from last night couldn't give me" and he left cos according to him, there was no point in staying.
True to word she didn't get better. Ms Hill screeched, yelled out verses and screamed her way through some undecipherable songs and then started on the Fugees backlog. I made out Fu-Gee-La (the beat is unmissable and I guess she couldn't quite change the tune - thank the lord!) You know how some rappers can't rap live and basically just shout their way through songs? Yeah Ms Hill was doing that. All I could make out was "UH LA LA LA". "Ready or not" - I recognised and had to point out to Frances ,who by this time was just rubbing her head in dismay. We noticed that despite the fact that she was soo hot, she had sweated through her Mac (you could almost see the rivulets of sweat running down her back and arms), she didn't take it off!
To say I was DISAPPOINTED is an understatement. If I had paid for those tickets, I WOULD HAVE BEEN PISSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think we actually did Alero & Trey the favour by going in their place. An hour and a half or so into it - Frances and I had matching SPLITTING HEADACHES and couldn't take it anymore. I'm sorry Ms Hill but 3 years ago, you made excuses for your voice on MTV unplugged and I forgave you cos the songs were mellow and you still sounded beautiful and haunting. By this time you should have sorted out your shit and got your act together. There was no excuse for this. Even her new song - Lose Myself, sounded shit live. I mean ...
The highlight of the night? As we were pulling the car out, Aleesha Dixon (girl from Misteeq that was in Pharell's - "she wants to move" video) was walking to her car and doing some funny dance steps. THAT should tell you something.
I didn't even know Omolasky was there... The video above is of the finale, That Thing, which would have been impossible even for her in her current state to cock up. She didn't, but it just was too little to late.